Teaching Kids to be Caring Adults
This morning I got stuck backing out of my driveway. Like so many areas of the U.S., winter has played its fair share of tricks on Montana this year. So this morning, as I attempted to back out through a heavy layer of snow and slush, I became stuck.
Now, I’ve grown up in Montana so this is not my first time being stuck. I know enough to try to “rock” the car out of the slush rut by switching between Drive and Reverse in quick succession while applying pressure to the gas pedal.
Nothing. Except I was perhaps resting a bit deeper in the slush base. After a few more rocking attempts I got out of my car to assess the situation. Imagine my surprise when I realized that my New Neighbor Guy was calmly shoveling his walk and not even glancing my way.
This was so unusual here in friendly Montana that I was struck dumb and proceeded to the house to get a shovel. As I was heading back to my car with the snow shovel in tow, I noticed New Neighbor Guy getting into his car where his adolescent son was strapped in and waiting. And away they drove.
Wow. As surprised as I was that New Neighbor Guy didn’t offer to help me get unstuck, I was just as surprised that he would pass up this teachable moment with his son.
What a great opportunity this was to model behavior showing his son that helping neighbors in need is a good thing and something we should all do. It was a chance to allow his child to see goodness in his dad and to feel good about helping. Too bad for the lost opportunity.
As parents we are not only our child’s first teachers, we are his lifelong teachers. So much of what a child learns about life and how to behave comes from watching his parents. It’s a huge responsibility and one that can’t be taken lightly.
As a school secretary I was able to tell in a short period of time which kids were having good citizenship modeled for them at home and which ones weren’t. The kids whose parents were teaching them about picking up dropped candy wrappers or being kind to others carried those behaviors with them every day.
By watching her parents take the time to help a neighbor, treat others with respect, volunteer at the food bank, etc., a child is learning to incorporate those same worthwhile characteristics into her life.
Here’s a list of suggestions that can help with your child’s learning process of what it means to be a caring person.
- Model Kindness. Your child will see you going out of your way to be kind and at some point the lesson will stick. You will be so proud when kindness becomes a way of life for your little one. Some ways to model this behavior are:
- Help take down storm windows for an elderly neighbor.
- Leave extra coupons for others to use on the bulletin boards of your grocery store.
- Go through your closet and bring unneeded items to a local charity.
- Offer to water plants and bring in mail for a friend who is going out of town.
- Hide notes of encouragement in your child’s lunchbox or your spouse’s pocket.
- Involve your child in volunteer and charitable activities. Each time you allow your child to participate in volunteer or charitable activities his self-esteem will go up a notch and bolster the knowledge that it feels good to help. Here are some ideas to try:
- Have your family join in the yearly neighborhood cleanup.
- While grocery shopping let your child help pick out cans of food or boxes of cereal for the holiday food drive.
- Set up a family change jar on the kitchen counter to collect spare change. At the end of each month let your child count the money and have a family brainstorming session to decide which charity to donate it to.
- Encourage your child to donate toys and books he’s outgrown to a local charity.
- Teach Empathy. You can help your child be more empathetic in several ways.
- Be sure to notice when he’s compassionate with a playmate and tell him how pleased you are with his behavior. By hearing that you noticed and approve, he’ll feel valued and affirmed for acting with kindness.
- Help your child understand and name his emotions. Whether he’s sad, frustrated or angry, having a name for it will give him a point of reference when he sees someone else experiencing that same emotion. As he remembers what that felt like he’ll be better able to offer support to the other child.
- Practice the art of good listening and as your child understands that he is being heard and validated he will learn from your actions. As he becomes a better listener his empathy will grow and he’ll be more able to relate to others.
Of course, this list is really just a jumping off point for your family. I’m sure that with a little thought you can come up with a list of ideas that are dovetailed to fit your family.
By practicing kindness and charity in your life you’ll be preparing your child to be a world citizenith a caring heart. And then you can rest assured that the next time your child encounters a neighbor stuck in the slush and snow he’ll be stepping up to help.