A few years ago, after giving birth to our daughter, I found myself in the drive-thru of McDonalds ordering 3 apple turnovers, a large coke, a quarter pounder with cheese and a large fry. I had made it through one of those kinds of nights: baby crying for most of the night, little to no sleep and a severe neck cramp brought on by bending my body like a pretzel, all to get Maddy to sleep in a comfortable position so that hopefully, I could get some sleep too. After a night like that, I was in no mood to cook and felt I deserved a little refined sugar, salty, grease reward.

As I waited my turn in the drive-thru, I looked out my rearview mirror. After getting past the fact that I hadn’t showered or washed my hair in days, I happened to notice that the man behind me was crying in his car. Crying. In the McDonald’s drive-thru. My heart immediately went out to this man. I did not know him and I had never seen him before in my life. All I knew from what I could see was that this man was feeling an immense amount of pain so deep, that it forced a breakdown in a public place. At that very moment, my heart went out to him and I wanted to help.

But how? I did not know this man and I wasn’t about to get out of my car, walk through the drive-thru line and hold everyone up. Then the idea hit me – pay for his food. As I pulled up to the window, I asked the cashier how much the total was for the car behind me. It was around $10 so I asked if it could be added to my bill. I paid for both of our meals and left. As I pulled out of the parking lot, I happened to look back in my rearview mirror once more to see the same man who just minutes before was so upset, was now so overjoyed.

I pulled out of the parking lot and made my way down the road feeling the happiest I had in weeks. As I came to a stop at the intersection and waited for the light, a car pulled up beside me. As I turned to the right of me to look around, the man in the car was waving his hands for me to roll down my window. It was the same man who was behind me in the drive-thru. What he told me next left me feeling nothing short of humbled and grateful.

He told me that he had literally just left his office after finding out that he lost his job and being the only breadwinner in the family, had no idea how he was going to take care of his wife and their three children. In shock after hearing the news, he went to McDonald’s on a whim but quickly realized after ordering his meal, that he didn’t have any money on him. That’s when he broke down and lost it. He thanked me profusely and said that while he was still very scared about his family’s future, he knew everything would be okay in the end. The light turned green and we parted ways. I never saw him again but I like to think that now, a few years later, he and his family are doing well.  

I do not share this story with you to earn kudos or to gain attention. My point for telling this story is simple: we never know the struggles others are going through. When we are able, extend a helping hand. Offer a kind word. We never know how our actions will affect others, good or bad.

Along this same line, I’ve thought of this incident often, especially now that I have a child of my own to raise in a world where kindness isn’t always commonplace. We’ve all heard the catch phrase “random acts of kindness,” and while we may try to show kindness to others, how do we as parents instill those values in our children? We live in such a materialistic, greedy, self-centered world and teaching our children to step beyond that is no small task. I believe in setting the example through our actions. Our children will look to us for direction and guidance. They will also learn what they live so what do our actions say?

Finding ways to practice random acts of kindness doesn’t have to be a blown-out production. Kindness comes in many different shapes, sizes and forms and while this one act of kindness came with a price tag, most acts of kindness can be done for free. Below, I’m sharing 10 ideas of simple random acts of kindness that you can do with your children at any age to help them understand this concept so they can apply it in their own lives for a lifetime.

ONE. Leave a homemade treat with a kind note for your mailman in the mailbox. These men and women provide such a thankless service every day regardless of weather conditions, traffic and more. Let them know you appreciate what they do for you.

TWO. Buy the car behind you in the drive-thru a coffee or a meal.

THREE. Help an elderly neighbor with grocery shopping, yard maintenance or simply spend some time with them talking and being a companion. This will mean more to them then you will ever know.

FOUR. Leave 10 {or any desired amount} of $1 bills in random spots in the dollar store. If you’re feeling extra kind, leave the 0.07 cents for tax. Imagine how happy the single mother shopping for her kids will be or the child who wants a toy but mommy and daddy are hesitant to buy one because of their tight budget. It sounds like so little to us but it makes such a HUGE difference in the lives of others who really need it.

FIVE. Make small gift baskets for kids who are in the hospital and deliver them with your children.

SIX. Make treats for your co-workers or your child’s school friends. This is a fun activity to do together while teaching a very selfless action of thinking of others.

SEVEN. Be kind to someone you dislike. Our children are always watching and listening. What do you think they see and hear when they look at you?

EIGHT. Offer your time to stressed or tired parents for free babysitting.

NINE. Buy a separate piggy bank for your child. Once it’s full, have them donate the money to the charity or organization of their choice.

TEN. Collect your child’s old books that they no longer read and donate them to a children’s center, shelter or local library.

These are just a few ideas to get you started and really, this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many things we can do to help spread kindness and joy to others.

This year, random acts of kindness week is February 12 – 18. I challenge and encourage each of you to find ways to spread a little kindness during that time and through the year to be a positive influence and driver for change in our world. If you need more information, ideas or inspiration, visit the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation web page.

What random acts of kindness ideas do you have to share?

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