By Julie A. Ross, MA
If you’re like most people, you’re probably wondering what a RAK is. RAK stands for “Random Act of Kindness” and Monday, February 17th, 2020 is Random Acts of Kindness Day.
I was first introduced to RAK attacks years ago and, honestly, I can’t remember how I first heard about them. But, I’ve been practicing them and teaching them ever since. RAKs give us the opportunity to put kindness top of mind and, while we should honestly be thinking about being kind EVERY day, not just one day a year, it doesn’t hurt to have at least one day devoted to making them our focus.
While I encourage you to use this day to do things like paying for a stranger’s coffee at Starbucks, writing a thank-you card to your spouse or partner for doing one of the myriad things that they normally do or leaving a small gift at a your neighbor’s door “just because,” I would also like for you to think about how you might be able to use this day to practice kindness toward your children.
I know, I know, EVERY day is about your kids. You drive them to soccer and ballet, you have a home-cooked meal waiting for them when they get out of soccer or ballet, you buy them gifts all the time and… well, let’s face it, they’re not always terribly grateful, so why should you do one more act of kindness when they don’t appreciate the ones you do every day?
Here’s why, and it’s attached to a very specific recommendation on my part as to how to do a RAK for your kid.
The specific recommendation:
The RAK I suggest that you do for your children is called a “Love Ticket.” (More about why they’re called that at the end of this blog.)
Love tickets are written acknowledgments of either A) your unconditional love for your child or B) a reflection upon a past positive behavior that your child has done. Before I get to the “why” of doing these, here are a few examples of both:
Type A: (Unconditional Love)
“I love you more than all the stars in heaven.”
“I’m so glad you were born.”
“I love you even when we disagree.”
“I love you just because you’re you.”
Note that none of the type A notes involve a condition for your love. You do NOT want to say, “I love the way you tell jokes,” “I love you for cleaning your room,” “I love that you got an A in Spanish.” Those are no-no’s!
Unconditional love (with the emphasis on UNCONDITIONAL) forms the basis of your child’s self-esteem. The problem with attaching conditions to our love is that it leads to our children basing their self-esteem solely on what they accomplish rather than the fact that they are loved simply for who they are — even if they aren’t particularly accomplished at Math, or Ballet, or Spanish — they remain lovable.
When we express unconditional love for who our children are, rather than what they accomplish, we give them the freedom to seek their own passions in life and, ultimately, to accomplish whatever they set their minds to!
Type B: (A reflection on a past positive behavior)
“I noticed that you cleaned your room.”
“I saw that you helped your sister with her homework yesterday.”
“I noticed that you did your homework right when you got home. That took a lot of discipline.”
None of the Type B notes should involve a mention of your love. Otherwise, we’re back to the problem of attaching love to conditions. Also be aware that these notes are not accompanied by a “Good job!” or “Well done!” Rather, they simply acknowledge that you noticed a positive behavior. This is important because research shows that over 90% of what our children DO is positive, while over 90% of what they HEAR about what they do is negative. We want to adopt a “catch them doing it right” philosophy so that they know we are watching, not just for the negatives, but for the positives as well.
Now why should we write these notes? Why, when we already do so much for our children, do we need to write a “love ticket” as well?
The answer is two-fold. First, seeing something in writing is somehow more powerful than hearing it, even if you’re using the exact same words. Writing to your child makes your love or your acknowledgement of their positive behavior concrete as opposed to ephemeral. As human beings we often believe what we see in writing.
Second, there’s quite a wonderful thing that happens when you pause and take a moment to reflect on something positive about your child — whether it’s their behavior or your love for them. Your pause, as well as your reflection, create closeness. And this is true no matter how your child might respond to your love ticket. Some will shrug it off, some will cherish it, some will throw it away. It doesn’t matter, really. Because the love ticket is as much for you as it is for them. Because you’re focused on something positive about them, you feel closer, warmer and kinder towards them.
One last thing about the name “love ticket.” I named them that because, a long time ago, a mom started writing them to her then 5 and 3 year old kids. Neither could read, but it didn’t matter. They were curious about what the note was and would ask whatever grownup was around to read the note to them. One day, the five year old came home distraught. Mommy gathered him up into her lap and held him through his tears until he became capable of telling her what had happened. She asked, “Sweetie, what happened?” Finally catching his breath, he said, “Mommy, I lost my love ticket.”
Because you’re putting your love or your acknowledgement of what your kids do right in writing, it actually functions as a “ticket” — redeemable for your love or for your affirmation of their positive behavior at any point that day or anytime down the line.
So, practice a RAK attack on your kids, no matter what their age. Expect nothing back. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll get more back than you bargained for.