Teaching your child to consider others or even care for others can be challenging. At times it can appear toddlers believe life revolves around their immediate wants. Sharing toys and taking turns in a game are skills that need to be demonstrated and taught by parents and carers. As children grow into teens they can appear to be reluctant at helping out with housework or lightening the load for others without an extrinsic reward. So, how can we as parents develop a heart of caring for others? Here are some practical pointers that I believe can assist children to think beyond themselves.
- Begin by making them aware how very blessed and privileged they are to live in Australia. For example many people, let alone children, are unaware that almost half the world, over three billion people, live on less than $2.50 a day. Discuss the terms ‘poverty’ and ‘third world’ and communicate the difference between needs and wants. I have found books to be an excellent tool to create children’s awareness in a non- threatening way. One book that explains this particularly clearly, and beautifully, for children is ‘If the World were a Village of 100 People’ by David J Smith. Smith cleverly deals with the serious issue of poverty by condensing the world’s population down to a village of just 100 people. Within this village of 100, Smith delivers some astonishing and thought-provoking facts. For example; If the world were a village of 100 people, 24 would always have enough food to eat, 16 go hungry some of the time, 34 go hungry all of the time and 26 people are severely undernourished. As a teacher, I have shared this book with my Year 5 classes over the past 2 years when studying the topic ‘A Diverse and Connected world’. I have seen the impact this book has had on my students. It empowers them to look beyond themselves and many have shown genuine compassion and empathy. Here is a link to the YouTube version of the book: https://youtu.be/QrcOdLYBIw0
Another beautiful piece of quality literature to share with your child is the poem ‘Starfish’ by Loren Eisley. It encourages children to look at how they can make a difference without feeling overwhelmed with the massive social issues that can be presented in the media. It leaves children with the positive message that even though they are not able to change the entire world, they can at least change a small part of it for someone.
- Communicate experiences of your own (if you have any) or known experiences of others. Children love to hear personal encounters and testimonies from people they love. I am involved with a non-for profit global organisation called Operation Smile and the country I am associated with is Vietnam. Operation Smile raise money for babies and children born with cleft lip and/or palates in developing countries. My involvement with Operation Smile has allowed me to visit Vietnam 3 times where I have served as a volunteer in Cuba Hospital, Hanoi. Visiting Vietnam for the first time changed my life forever. I was overcome with deep emotion when I saw how happy and content the Vietnamese people were. These people clearly had so little. Many had travelled for hours on trains or a motorbike from rural dwellings hoping and praying their precious child would be chosen for surgery. I remember seeing a little boy, aged 5, dressed in a dirty pink Minnie Mouse t-shirt and beanie. I later learned both items had been donated to him and they were the only items of clothes he had. I’ll never forget his father cry tears of joy when I gave his little boy a soccer ball that was amongst the gifts I had bought over from Australia. He had never owned anything new before and his gratitude was immense. On that first visit I witnessed overcrowded hospital rooms with 3 patients to a bed, medical equipment that we would deem in desperate need of disposal, families eating nothing but rice and crackers and children playing with tin cans and string. Relaying these stories and showing photos to my own 3 boys have impacted them and empowered them. They have all since been involved in my fundraising events to fund more missions
- Become involved as a family with a charity. There are so many charities these days to choose from. To make this a more beneficial and impacting activity, I encourage you to give your child some ownership by being responsible for part of the payment. Perhaps an extra chore at home could help with this payment.
- Pray that your child will develop a heart of compassion through the examples you set. As Christians we are told in the bible to look after those in need. James 1:27 clearly states “religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress.” Again, in Colossians 3:12 we are told “as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience”. Pray that the foundations you set in your child’s early life will grow and flourish as they mature. One of the most beautiful memories I have as a parent is when one of my sons, aged 5, asked if he could make a sandwich for the homeless man who lived on the main street in Kiama. Now, 10 years later, I sometimes wonder where that cute little boy with a heart for the homeless man has gone. At times, he appears only concerned with keeping up with the latest technology, wearing only branded clothing and winning every game on his PS4. I know this is ‘typical teenage behaviour’ and a phase. I believe I will see the fruit of my work that I put in in the early years bloom as he grows beyond the teenage years.
In my life I have come across 2 slogans that I have been greatly impacted by and I try to live my life by. The first one is the mission statement of Operation Smile ………. We can change lives, one smile at a time (modified). The other one is ……. A simple act of kindness creates an endless ripple. I encourage you to find one or two that impacts you and place it in several highly visible areas in your home for your children to see.