Kindness in Action

Although it is not a recently published book, The Mitten Tree written by Candace Christiansen and illustrated by Elaine Greenstein is worth reading. The simple story line tells of a lonely elderly woman who watches the neighborhood children as they wait at the bus stop. She remembers when her children gathered there and longs for the warmth and joy of that part of her life.

One cold morning, she notices one boy stands off from the rest of the group as they romp through newly-fallen snow. She sees that he has no mittens. Her heart is touched and she decides to knit him a pair of mittens.

The next morning she visits the bus stop before any of the children arrive. She carefully hangs the mittens on the sturdy spruce tree and then quickly returns home to watch from her window. Sure enough, the boy who had no mittens spots them on the tree. Exactly as she had hoped, he takes them for his own.

She knits every day and replenishes the mitten tree with her handiwork. Although she remains anonymous, she finds new-found purpose in her project. Eventually, she runs out of yarn. To her surprise, on her porch she discovers a basket overflowing with yarn. Someone has noticed her endeavor! The circle of kindness is completed!

I like this book not only for its easily gleaned message of helping others but also because it highlights that one must not only notice when a person needs help, one must take action to help fulfill that need. Kindness Is a thought before it is an action. Kindness disengaged from action is an empty promise. Click To Tweet

It also reinforces the fact that kindness blesses both the giver and the recipient. We must help kids learn how to be kind. Reading stories like this help to teach them the habit of noticing opportunities to be kind and then reinforces the need to take action.

This story also has the added element of anonymity. The children do not know who is knitting the mittens and the woman does not know who is gifting her yarn. This subtle point can be pointed out to young readers teaching them that kindnesses are performed to benefit someone who needs a helping hand not to gain praise or admiration from others.

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Just as in The Mitten Tree both the woman and the children benefit from the kindness proffered, adoption brings gains to both child and parent. (This is not to invalidate or diminish the very real grief and loss issues adoptees must handle.) Parents can use the story as a jumping off point for reiterating their deep feelings about what adopting their child has brought them. They can then ask the child to discuss some of their feelings—if they are willing. Do not force them to reveal what they are not ready to explore. Also, encourage them to share ALL of their feelings—not just the happy ones. Creating the space for a discussion of their more challenging feelings is crucial. They need to explore this emotional minefield and they need the love, acceptance and, support of their parents to navigate their explorations.

P. S. People often feel free to tell adoptees that they should be grateful for being adopted. As an adoption coach, I know this is received as a violation of personal privacy boundaries. Moreover, it is unhelpful. Unless directly involved in a specific adoption, refrain from offering uninvited advice. Adoption is too complicated, the emotions involved too complex and, the stakes are too high for outsiders to insert themselves.

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