When we had our first child, my husband and I talked a lot about the kind of children we wanted to raise and how to do it. Of course we wanted smart, healthy, capable children, but we also wanted kind, compassionate, and thoughtful children that would become really good adults. So we looked for ways to instill the values we were hoping for in our kids.
It started with looking at things we were already doing and then adding where we could, based on the kids' maturity. We found that you don’t have to go too far out of your way to incorporate values into daily routines. There are teachable moments that you can use throughout the day that foster compassion, humility, and empathy.
Here are some ideas that may help you raise socially responsible kids.
1. House Responsibilities: Pick some chores for your kids to perform that they will not be given an allowance to do. These jobs teach kids that they are a valuable part of your team. And being on a team means sometimes you take, but you must always give. For them to feel a part of the team, they must also contribute. Responsibilities solidify a child’s place in your family and the community.
2. Write Thank You Notes: It seems like writing hand written thank you notes is becoming an antiquated tradition. But, in the thinking about a gift or something nice someone did for you, and then expressing it in a hand written note is a wholly positive experience. Reflecting on a good deed or gift allows your child to feel thankful. Taking time to express gratitude to another creates space for humility. It adds value to the gift in reminding kids that someone was thinking about them. For pre-schoolers, you can write these for your kids, but include them in the process. They can always decorate the note you write with pictures or even scribbles.
3. Charity Drives: There is a charitable organization for just about any cause you can think of. Find a group you or your kids are passionate about. Veterans? Cancer survivors? Victims of environmental disasters? Talk to your kids about why you’re collecting for the charity and why it is important to give to those in need. Even if you don’t organize your own drive, you can participate in charitable giving and include your children. Volunteering and donating helps kids see themselves as part of the community and empowers them to give more and care more.
4. Prepare a Meal: Make a meal with your kids to bring to a family with a new baby or to one that may have experienced a tragedy and is grieving. Making the meal and then delivering it teaches giving and compassion.
5. Gratitude Journal: Along with thank you notes, keeping a gratitude journal helps children reflect on their blessings. For pre-writing children, you can take time at night to talk about your blessing. As they age, they can draw pictures of the people, things and experiences they are thankful for.
6. Be Polite and Give Compliments: Practice “please and thank you” and the power of positive words by freely sharing compliments to family, friends and strangers. It builds kids’ self esteem to hear kind words about themselves, and it builds compassion when they express admiration in others. Guild your kids by offering compliments that are both external/appearance based (You have are such a cute kid!) and internal/value-based (It was so kind of you to share the toy!).
7. Limit your waste: Recycle and reuse as much as you can. Talk about proper disposal of trash and recyclables. Hand-me-down or donate clothes and toys your kids have outgrown. Shop at consignment shops to reduce manufacturing costs and what ends up in our landfills. Strive to conserve electricity by shutting off lights in rooms not in use. Teach your children to turn off the faucet while scrubbing hands or brushing teeth to conserve water. These acts teach our kids that it is our job to take care of the earth.
8. Read Books: Borrow from the library or stock books in your home that teach the values of compassion and the desire to help others. Read stories about people who have done great things for others.
Teaching our kids to be empathetic and aware of social issues is to raise compassionate leaders in the workplace, involved members of the community, dependable friends, and caring brothers and sisters. More meaningful human connections will equal more strength to act on empathy.