Raising Kids Who Think We, Not Me!
REALITY CHECK: Volunteering and community service can be powerful in helping children realize that they can make a difference in their world. The experience can activate their empathy ad help them develop Nine Empathy Competencies: Emotional Literacy, Moral Identity, Perspective Taking, Moral Imagination, Self-Regulation, Collaboration, Practice Kindness, Moral Courage, and Altruistic Leadership (©UnSelfie). The key is to make sure that the project is meaningful for the child, and not just chosen to look good on a future resume or college application.
The first time I realized the power of involving kids in social justice projects was when one of my sons was just four. The two of us had gone to see the movie “The Bear,” and because it was rated as family oriented, I wasn’t prepared for the scene in which a bear is brutally killed. Well, neither was my four-year-old: Zach was devastated, and he sobbed all the way home. At some point during our drive, he exclaimed adamantly that the president of the United States should make a rule against killing bears.
Probably to appease him more than anything else, I suggested that he write the president a letter, and as soon as we drove into our driveway, Zach turned into an animal rights activist. He ran inside; grabbed an envelope, paper, and pencil; and asked me to write down his words. Within five minutes, he’d written a letter to the president pleading with him to write a law stopping the “bear killers.” He then sealed and stamped the envelope, and confidently put it in the mailbox.
What I never expected was a response: over the next weeks Zach received dozens of letters from various government officials regarding animal rights, hunting laws, and even a few about bears. And the satisfaction on Zach’s face each time he opened a letter was priceless.
“See, Mom,” he’d tell me, “they know it’s wrong, and they’re going to do something. I helped the bears.”
That day my four-year-old taught me just how important it is to help kids know that their actions can make a difference.
I also learned a very important lesson: it’s never too early to start.
6 Ways to Inspire Kids To Want To Make a Difference
I’m convinced there is no more powerful way of boosting kids’ character and developing a Caring, Moral Identities than getting them involved in an issue they consider unjust. It also inspires their empathy and affirms that kids at any age can make a difference.
But how do you start? That’s the question that haunted me. When writing UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All About Me World, I decided to find the answer by asking parents whose children were actively involved in volunteering in community projects and passionate about their causes.
Here are six steps parents used to help their kids find their passion and want to make a difference in their world.
Step 1: Find what concerns your child
Tune into problems that concern your child and start by looking around your neighborhood. For example: property that needs cleaning up, a park where kids no longer feel safe playing, homeless people living on the streets, shelters that need sprucing up, or elderly people who are lonely. Many parents regularly discuss news issues as a family to find out what concerned their children like Internet hate sites, bullying, homelessness, gender inequality, poverty, human rights, sex trafficking, racial injustice.You might also visit service projects together or take your child with you as your volunteer so your child sees possibilities and you can get a sense of his passions or her concerns.
Step 2: Research the topic together
Next, help your child find out information about the problem. The library, newspapers, and the Internet are always good sources. She might also ask teachers, relatives, coaches, or city officials. Call and write organizations familiar with the topic for more ideas.
Step 3. Brainstorm possibilities
Next, brainstorm ways your child could make a difference. Maybe she wants to help the homeless, and brainstormed: build a shelter, put beds in the park, give out blankets, and raise money for cots. Now help her choose a manageable idea that she cares about. She might realize that building a shelter isn’t realistic (right away, anyway), but she could canvass the neighborhood for blankets.
The key points every parent told me were these: “Think big, but start small. Start in your own community and always begin face to face.” The moment that their child saw the gratitude on the other person’s face was transformational. The face to face encounter is what activated the child’s empathy and ignited their passion to want to continue doing more to help.
Step 4. Enlist others to help
If your child enjoys being with others, find others who agree with her cause. It helps build energy. Some kids form clubs with neighbors, classmates, church members, or friends. The more the merrier.
One teen boy told me that he wanted to help out at a homeless shelter his senior year. His concern – time. So his mom enlisted his girlfriend and her mother so he could see her and they would be a foursome! “Volunteering became our time together,” he said, “and it was transformative. I realized I could make a difference on people’s lives and now I’m pursuing a career in social work. But I also learned things about my mom when we were together. She kept working at that shelter even after I went to college. I never realized how much helping others meant to her. It made me love her even more.”
Step 5. Plan for success
Help her list what resources and people she will need. You might post a large monthly calendar for her to jot down volunteer days and times. Detailed plans increase the odds of success.
Getting started is often the hardest, so you might ask, “What is the first thing you need to get started?”
Stress that plans never go smoothly, so help your child change any areas that need correcting. Then encourage her to not look at those as mistakes but as “learning opportunities” in disguise!
Step 6. Celebrate efforts
Whether your child writes one letter or a 100, donates one blanket or 50, serves one meal or dozens, support his efforts and affirm that he’s helping to make a difference. That is the exact message our children need to realize that they can make their world a better place.
And it all starts with empathy!
Join me! It’s time to start an UnSelfie Revolution!
In the next post, I’ll share ways to match your children’s interests and strengths with community projects they can do to make a difference, develop Caring Mindsets, and Me to We attitudes.
The ideas in this post are from my latest book, UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All About Me World that describes how to cultivate the Nine Crucial Habits of Empathy, and 300 strategies parents and teachers can use from toddlers to teens to do so.
Did you know that teens today are 40 percent less empathetic than those 30 years ago? That is tragic news for our children and society. For starters, it hurts kids’ moral character, and leads to bullying. Also it correlates with more cheating and less resilience. And once kids grow up, a lack of empathy hampers their ability to collaborate, innovate, and problems solve-all must-have skills for the global economy.
Empathy can be cultivated. I’ll be sharing those strategies in this blog. It’s time for a national conversation and to start an UnSelfie Revolution! I hope you join me!