Keep your kids focused on caring….even when the holidays are over.
As parents of older children, there are moments when Brad and I truly reap what we have sown over the last 20 plus years. I usually joke that if you can do the right thing over 50% of the time, you are a good parent. There are some days I think we accomplished that! Recently I have seen a glimpse of all 4 of our children reaching out and volunteering on their own…because it was the right thing to do. It is in those moments that we see some of the small things that we did as a family had an impact.
It has been nearly 2 months since the Thanksgiving holiday, and a month past Christmas. Our minds are very focused on gratitude and giving during those months, but now is a great time to continue the focus with our children.
We all want to raise children that are happy, confident and good people. Often it is easy to concentrate on your child’s happiness and try to provide all that they need and want to “make” them happy. True happiness and self esteem cannot be bought or given to our children, and happiness is empty without moral character. We as parents can’t just “talk the talk” about empathy and moral character, we must provide opportunities for our children to develop those characteristics.
Empathy begins at a very young age. At age 2 a toddler may try to comfort a crying child, but then grab a toy away from them the next second! At 3, children are more aware of other’s feelings and will begin to share. With guidance, by age 4 children can understand when they have hurt another and will apologize with prompting. By school age, children will be able to come up with ideas on how to help others, can share easily, and can discuss feelings.
This development of character doesn’t just happen on its own. Parents have to make the effort to provide opportunities for children to be compassionate and reach out to others. Children need contact with others to develop empathy. Empathy is not developed with electronics, it is developed with true personal relationships. So much of our relationships now are through Facebook, text, and e-mail. Children need a person to person relationship to foster empathy. Just “liking” someone on Facebook doesn’t do it!
Reaching out in kindness doesn’t just benefit others….it benefits your child too. People who volunteer are healthier and happier. Studies show us that kids that volunteer are better students and make better life choices. Volunteering teaches responsibility and increases self-esteem.
Building a culture of volunteering and caring is simple, you don’t have to take a mission trip to a third world country to accomplish it. Simple family activities of writing thank you notes, visiting elderly relatives and friends, bringing cookies to neighbors, picking up trash in the park, holding animals at the animal shelter, delivering a meal to a sick friend, bringing in the neighbor’s trash cans and yes, volunteering to help others during the holidays all build a culture of caring. Caring and empathy will soon become as natural to your child as getting dressed in the morning. If your child experiences the feeling of “doing good for others”, I promise it will become addictive and a habit.
So, as you pack up your kids to visit a lonely friend, or you help them draw pictures to mail to our service men and women, or your kitchen is a disaster from them “helping you” bake for a neighbor, or you spend an hour helping your child pick out a gift for the needy, you might question, is this really worth it? Would it be easier to say no….yes! Would it be easier to do it yourself and check it off your list…..yes! But, I can promise you, it is worth more for your child and our community than the effort you put forth.
Where can you find ideas for family service? Try local churches, food pantries, shelters, or this great website, www.geneartionon.org. Commit to helping provide your child with opportunities to reach out to others.
Take a breath, enjoy the joyful moments of each day, and remember you don’t have to be perfect to be the perfect parent.