How many times today have you told your children to share their toys or to be nice to their sibling? 1,000,000? Yup, that’s what I thought. Me too!
We’ve all been there, constantly reminding our kids to be nice and share, hoping beyond all hope that someday they will turn into responsible, kind and thoughtful adults.
I have often heard the story of Mr. Rogers, whose mother told him to always “look for the helpers” when the news broke of traumatic events. She was right – there are always helpers! But even more than teaching our children to look for the helpers, how can we teach them to BE the helpers? How can we raise them to be people who recognize the needs of others and quickly extend a helping hand?
Here are a few simple ideas to get the ball rolling and teach your kids to be helpers:
1. Do easy projects with your kids to help friends in need
Engage your kids in these projects by noticing opportunities that they bring up in conversation. For example, if your child mentions, “Jimmy never brings a sandwich to school,” you can suggest making an extra sandwich together to share with Jimmy. Be ready to take action to meet needs that you or your child notice. Don’t let inconvenience or time keep you from contributing to others.
A great way to choose a project is to think about things that your child is skilled at or loves to do. For example, does your child love singing and dancing? Try contacting a local assisted living home to see if you and your child can come visit and dance with the residents. If your child is a lego-building master, take some time to volunteer with your child at the local children’s hospital and share some lego wisdom. Helping your child find creative ways to help people through things they’re good at can teach them to find a new purpose in the things they are already passionate about.
2. Save money together to donate to a worthwhile cause
If you give your child an allowance, ask them to separate their allowance into three categories – some to spend, some to save and some to give. With the money they save to give, work together to find a place to make a donation. Tangible things work really well to teach kids the joy of giving.
We love buying gifts in our house. Our kids love receiving toys as gifts, so it’s easy for them to understand how another child would enjoy receiving a toy. You can find a local charity that collects toys for the holidays and then save with your children throughout the year. Bring your children with you to purchase the toys and then deliver them together to your charity of choice.
Another great way to donate is purchasing tangible items for people experiencing homelessness in your community. In our city, we meet people on a regular basis who are in need of food, warm clothing, and basic necessities. When we meet them, we love to stop and offer to buy them a meal. You can also purchase items and assemble simple care packages with your children – a new pair of socks, a hat, and hygiene items – that you can carry in your car to give away to people in need.
3. Look for organic opportunities to help people around you
Sometimes the best opportunities to teach our children generosity come about organically as we go about our days.
One of the moments that was the most impactful to me was when I was ordering some lunch with my 6 month old baby strapped to me in the carrier and groceries in my hands. Since my hands were full, I was planning to make a few trips to carry my food to a table. The mom behind me noticed the situation and immediately called upon her 8-year-old son to help me. She patiently guided him through exactly how he could help me carry my food to my table. He clearly had done these kinds of things before with his mom because he quickly jumped into action and helped me with joy. I was blown away. He was so very willing to help.
These are the kinds of opportunities we can look for every day. When our children are little, we can model helpfulness to them by jumping in to help others around us as often as possible. As our children get a bit older, we can engage them in these opportunities, guide them through it, and allow them the joy of helping others. Don’t underestimate their ability to serve at a young age.
Let’s work together to raise a generation of helpers! I can’t wait to watch them change the world with their compassionate action.