The OG himself, Fred Rogers, always began and ended his show by greeting his little viewers as though they were his neighbors. He was kind and gentle with them, taking time to explain things they might not understand. On a deeper level, he cared about how his "neighbors" felt. Yes, he helped them learn to process their emotions in a healthy and productive way. But it went beyond that! Did you know that one of Mister Rogers' fans wrote to him to check on Fred's fish? The child was blind and couldn't be sure that Mister Rogers was properly feeding the fish every day. From that point on, you'll notice that Mister Rogers would SAY, "And now let's give our fish friend some food!" as he fed his pet. THAT is thoughtfulness. THAT is being a good neighbor. And Mister Rogers was - and still is - an excellent role model of neighborliness.
This week, my husband took our toddler trick-or-treating while I kept the baby at home with me. She was sick and I didn't want her to spread her little germs around, so I set a bucket of treats on the porch with a sign. I felt awful - one of my favorite parts of Halloween is opening the door to adorable toddlers on the cutest costume parade of the year! How could I be a good neighbor to these kids if I didn't greet them with a smile and pour love and kindness into them (the most important part of Halloween trick-or-treating)?
Being a good neighbor isn't about doing what we want; it's about what's best for our neighbors and friends.
It's important to me to teach my children to be a good neighbor. When I say neighbor, I don't just mean the people who live in the house next door. I mean anyone we come into contact with on a daily basis: our friends, the cashier at Aldi's, and the toddler playing at the park. But kids are notoriously self-centered! They're engineered this way at this age - it's all about discovering their own unique interests and preferences. How can a mom combat this self-centeredness to help her kids be a good neighbor?
Kids learn by seeing what we do. Our actions send a much louder message than our words. As parents, it's our duty and our privilege to live life as a good neighbor so that our children can also learn how to be considerate and kind to those around them.
It's not easy. More often than I'd care to admit, I want to have things my way. "They're just wrong," I'll say, "and I'm right." Ugh. What a horrible attitude! On a busy day, it's so much easier to just do things my way - to not take the time to consider what would help others. That's the same perspective that causes people to cut you off in traffic, to blast music at all hours, to sneer at your crying toddler in the grocery store. The world doesn't need more of that attitude, and I certainly don't need to be living like that as an example for my kids.
These are ways I'm trying to be a good example for my kids. It's frustrating to know that they won't just do what I say - they will do as I do. So I need to do better myself.
- Take cookies to our neighbors to say thank you for being good neighbors.
- Wait our turn when we're in line - patiently and cheerfully.
- Say "please" and "thank you" to everyone we ask for help.
- Smile and say "Hello" or "Good Morning" to strangers we meet.
- Pick up litter as we see it - leave our community looking nicer than we found it.
- Ask if our elderly neighbors need help raking their leaves.
- Decorate tastefully for the holidays.
- Remember names and greet people by name.
I'm sure I will discover even more ways to live out neighborliness as my kids get older. For now, it's the little things that make a world of difference. Kindness is free and it goes a long way. The discipline of being considerate instead of self-centered isn't always easy, but it makes each day more joyful - for me and for my kids.
How have you lived out the discipline of being a good neighbor? Share your ideas of neighborliness with me on Twitter @pi3sugarpi3 with #WontYouBeMyNeighbor.