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If you have young children, I know that low-level fighting and provoking seem like part of normal life. What did we expect? We gave birth to little sinners and little sinners like to find anything they can to fight about. Yet in the midst of that messiness, we will want to aim for family unity. Notice I said aim. I wrote about that focus several weeks ago. If you missed it, you can read it here on the blog: Aiming for Family Unity.

But in the midst of that battle for unity, how can we train our children? In digging deeper with one of my adult daughters about this topic, she phrased something we did in a way that took me back.

“How did we strive for family unity?” I asked her.

“You forced us to be kind to one another.”

Yikes! That doesn’t sound very Christlike. The phrasing took me back. You don’t often see the words forced and kindness in the same sentence.

If I repeat that phrase, will the authorities come after us? After all, children aren’t supposed to be “forced” to do anything they don’t want to. Or are they?

She meant it in a positive way, as a compliment. I asked her what she remembered.

Really she highlighted principle 4 in the post Aiming for Family Unity.

“If we were mean to each other, we had to apologize.  But we didn’t just apologize. Words are easy.  You had us do something nice for the other person. Maybe we had to do their dinner time chore. Maybe we had to offer one of our favorite toys for a while.  Or maybe the older had to play with the younger and their toys for a little time.”

Even though Sharon and I did not think of it as forced kindness, we did think of it as restitution. Scripture teaches the biblical principle of restitution. And Ephesians 4:22-24 teaches us to put off and put on the positive.

Acting in Love
While actions can’t give us a regenerate heart they can shape the heart.

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis stated, “Do not waste time bothering where you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.”

“Forcing” our children to: a. forebear on small things b. ask forgiveness and c. act kindly and lovingly in restitution to their siblings is not hypocrisy. It is training the muscle memory of their heart. It is building character.

While this principle is certainly more applicable to young children, it also applies to those who are older. And wisdom is needed when to put this principle into practice and when just to move on as a parent.

Expressive Individualism?
But in this age of “expressive individualism” we need to raise our children to “self-controlled servant-ism.”

So consider the phrase – forced kindness – with joy, with love, with affection. Though I may have liked the wording trained kindness better, her phrasing certainly sticks with you.