Children and Giving
Growing up, I recall my parents regularly discussing other people’s plights and what they could do to help: how X was facing a difficulty and could use some help or money, Y needed assistance while her husband was unwell, maybe Z could stay with us for a while until a situation stabilised. These displays of empathy, compassion and generosity had a huge influence on me and how I believed people should think and behave towards others.
Now that I have children of my own, I wonder about the values and experiences that will shape them. They are growing up in an environment worlds apart from the less well off, yet open, community feel of my upbringing where we knew all the neighbours young and old and no one needed to organise playdates. We walked to school by ourselves and all played in the streets and local park by our house, looking out for each other, happily popping into the homes of anyone we knew for impromptu snacks if called in .... no not in the 1960’s and, yes, even in the late 80s!
How can we instil compassion and a love of altruism in our children? I’ve been asking parents in recent days and here are a couple of the practical ideas that I loved:
Caregivers of every form are the most influential role models for children from the earliest age. As parents of young children, we are particularly time poor so volunteering is not always an option. Children love stories - why not tell them about something you’ve done to help others, why you did it and what the outcome was. Or tell them a story about a charity, how they started, what they do. Include what the giver and receiver felt to help the child understand, emphathise and build compassion.
Volunteering There are tons of volunteering opportunities for high schoolers and the research shows that teenagers that are involved in altruistic activities are more likely to have a mature and balanced outlook on life and less likely to be involved in anti-social behaviour, turn to drugs, get pregnant or lose a strong connection with their caregivers.
Things Younger Kids Can Do What about younger children? It’s not so easy to include toddlers and younger children in volunteering activities.
How about befriending an elderly person and taking your youngster along for regular visits? There are several such schemes in Singapore - check with the Salvation Army Peacehaven projects, Central Singapore Silver Friends CDC and LionBefrienders or your local eldercare home for opportunities. I recently saw a British Channel 4 documentary about an experiment in which a preschool was set up in an eldercare home and the measurable positive impact it had on the elderly residents, including the grumpy ones who said they couldn't care less!
Food Bank Juniors Club - part of Food Bank Singapore - is recruiting junior food bankers ages 5 to 12 years to help with the organisation’s activities, including visiting the warehouse, hands on activities and excursions.
Acts of Kindness/Altruism
This one comes from the organisation ‘Kindness Elves' and is an alternative to Elf on the Shelf at Christmas. The idea works just as well in our everyday lives and is easy to implement even with toddlers. How about trying one of these acts of kindness as a family once a week:
- Smile at everyone you see today
- Bake something for a friend or neighbour
- Visit or stop to chat to an elderly person
- Choose and wrap a toy/book/gift for a children’s charity or home
- Make some wrapping paper and gift tags by upcycling
- Fill a jar with ’10 things I love about you’ and give it to that special person
- Collect toys and books that are no longer played with and donate them, or sell them in your condo and donate the money
- Make a meal for someone that is poorly or could use a hand (like someone with a newborn!) and take it to them
- Make or buy a bird feeder and feed the birds regularly
- Choose together and donate the kids’ old shoes and clothes - explain who will benefit from them and why they need them
- Commit to using/wasting less plastic this week or start different recycling bins - explain how this helps the environment and the world we live in
- Make a bookmark and hide it inside a library book for the next person to find and use
- Practice asking and then ask someone how they are feeling today and watch their face light up
Volunteering or taking part in an act of kindness as a family is a great activity to promote bonding and connection. Our neighbours had a soup kitchen Christmas tradition growing up and they still all get together and do it, now including the grandkids as well! Try one small thing this week and see how it makes everyone smile!