Growing service minded children
I can’t tell you how many times I have heard “they’re too young to help” or even better “they’re too young to get anything out of it.” Definitely the wrong thing to say to a mom who is super passionate about mission work with little kiddos. And being the competitive person that I am I love proving those Negative Nancys wrong. I have been doing mission work with my kiddos since my oldest was 3. Now we’re not feeding starving children in Africa or building homes with Habitat for Humanity, but we are getting hands-on in our home and in our community. And for little ones their home and their community is their world, so what better place to start cultivating kindness and compassion?!
Dr. Marilynn Price-Mitchell, founder of Roots of Action makes a great observation of the importance of developing compassion as she compares building compassion to building muscles. “Children who participate in programs that teach kindness, respect, empathy, and compassion and who have families that reinforce those strengths at home develop the muscles they need to become civically engaged adolescents and adults,” she says. Putting compassion into practice early on can set a precedent that lasts. “During the teen years, they reach deep within themselves, access these muscles, and develop social and civic identities that last a lifetime.”
It’s not big grand projects for the little ones– it’s the simple things like expressing love and appreciation toward family members, making paper flowers and passing them out at the local retirement home, and showing gratitude by thanking those in our community who help us such as our police, firefighters, pastors…
I believe that the first step begins with a simple conversation (talk about it). Point out ways we can help others at home and in our community, ways others help us and how that makes us feel. Talk about situations in the books you read at night and their views on how the characters feel. (Berenstain Bears has some good ones…Kindness Counts, Lend a Helping Hand, Think of Those in Need)
So, now that you’ve talked about it as a family it’s time to put that kindness into action. For me, as a former school counselor and play therapist, hands on active doing is always my go to. Have your kiddos express love and kindness to their friends and family members with little love notes left by their plates at dinnertime, make a sick or elderly family member a card, and/or decorate a flower pot filled with beautiful fall flowers and deliver to a neighbor.
The next step is to be consistent. Children thrive on consistency, so implement small kindness projects each month. Remember it doesn’t have to be elaborate – SIMPLE works with this age! Keep the kindness conversation going at home and you’ll notice a difference. I’m not promising an overnight transformation – to be honest my amazingly wonderful three year old is a recovering self obsesser who still has “all about me” relapses and is my joyous work in progress! But aren’t we all a work in progress no matter the age?!
So for all those “Negative Nancys” who say that toddlers & preschoolers are too young to gain anything from kindness projects I say “Wrong, Wrong, Wrong” and I dare you to spend a day with a child as they complete any of the simple yet utterly compassionate projects I listed and then tell me they didn’t gain anything from the experience or that they didn’t impact someone’s day because of their simple kindness!
I’d love to hear about projects you’re doing in your home and in your community with your little ones!