If I get to the end of my parenting journey and can say my child is kind to those around her and to the world in general I will feel like I have succeeded. I may be being totally naïve but for me that is one of the most important lessons I can teach her. Most days I will ask her if she has been kind, if she has looked out for people in the playground who perhaps are not always included in the games and who do not naturally have lots of friends around them – she has now reached the age where I receive an exasperated response along the lines of “yes I know and yes you have told me enough already”. Educating the heart is just as important as educating the mind (stolen from a cheesy American website!!).
As part of some research I was doing for work I started to think about engaging children with charity and helping them to learn about our responsibilities as human beings to help our neighbours and those in the world around us – I think in schools it is taught as being a good global citizen.
I guess when it comes to parenting there will be different schools of thought about what we tell our children about the pain and suffering in our world. As parents our natural instinct is obviously to protect our children, and not cause them harm or upset. I personally though am a big believer in being real with them, because the realities of life will at some point affect them personally and I wanted my child to have the tools to cope and I also want her to learn compassion and kindness to reach out and help people around her who are struggling and who are in pain. It is for that reason I have never shied away from letting Lucy visit family members in dementia homes, she has done that since she was a baby and likewise my Dad spent 3 years in and out of hospital for his cancer treatment and she spent a lot of times in those hospitals and maybe witnessed things that she was too little to see – I don’t know. When my Dad died there was no question she would come to the funeral, even though she was only 6 at the time, and we talked openly and honestly with her about the process and what would happen and let her be part of the discussions with those leading the services, allowing her to give her memories and share what she loved about her Papa. My hope is that these experiences will make her more compassionate, will give her understanding and will equip her with tools to take into later life.
I don’t though just want it to be about sensitising my child to pain and suffering in the world but I want to empower her to make a difference, to know she can play her part in making the world a better place and to teach her about the importance of giving so that she grows up to be generous.
Not only that but when I look at what my child has I sometimes feel a little bit sick – Christmas morning in the past has verged on the obscene side and that is without me having spent more than £30 – my child is lucky she has lots of people around her who love her and want to show her that love by giving to her but I want to move away from that “me me me” “I want” expectation to one of giving and generosity.
So I took to our good friend Google to come up with some ideas about how we as our little family can together engage in charity and here’s what I found:
- Children learn best by example – model everyday acts of kindness to them. Share your values with them. Whether it be financial giving or smiling at someone on the street, holding open a door for someone else or visiting someone who is sick.
- According to a United Nations Foundation study talking to our children about giving is one of the most effective ways to encourage philanthropy and increases the likelihood of them giving as adults by 28%. The study is quick to say though that the way we talk to our children is the key – be specific, don’t just say we give because it is a nice thing to do but talk to them about how their actions affect others and frame it in a way that can relate to. Allow the subject of giving and charity to be part of your every day conversations.
- Allow children to be part of the decision making process of who as a family you give to – allow them to hear about different charities and causes and let them make the choice – let them direct the process. The greater their involvement the more they will learn. Make it fun!
- When it comes to pocket money (and I am rubbish at this – I so want to teach my child good financial skills but find it a rather overwhelming subject so often put it off!!) give them 3 jars and explain that they can have some to spend, some to save and some to give away. Giving cash can be an abstract concept to children, especially when these days it is often simply an on-line click so think of ways to make that giving practical. Is there an old lady who lives on their own who would be blessed by a bunch of flowers, or could they go with you to the supermarket and use the money they have saved to buy some money for a foodbank?
- Create family traditions. We try and every year to make up a box for Operation Christmas Child – we go to the shop together and pick out items, and I let Lucy chose and think about what another child may like.
- Set your children challenges – ask them to do something nice for 3 other people every time someone is nice to them – to teach them the importance of giving back.
- Giving is not just about money but time too – could you as a family go and do something which will help or bless another person.
- Partly because I am marginally OCD before every birthday and Christmas I make Lucy go through all her clothes and toys and decide what she wants to give away – some go to friends others to the charity shop.
- Sponsoring a child in an overseas country – that makes it more relatable – one child engaging with another where letters can be exchanged.
Those are just a few ideas that I am going to try and be intentional about implementing but if anyone else out there has other creative ways I would love to hear from you.
A lot of my working life has been about “legacy” and what people leave behind and I have seen plenty of the bad as well as lots of the good but I passionately believe we have a responsibility to teach kindness, generosity and respect to our children. I don’t get this stuff right all or even most of the time but I like to think of it as a work in progress!