ParenTalk: How To Teach Kids to Give Back to Society
In a modern world warped by ever increasing consumerism, rich–poor gap and food insecurity and climate change, it has become imperative to teach the children of today the essence of kindness, empathy and compassion and how they can help in making the world a better place. Caregivers must carry the mantle to sensitize children about the significance of giving back to society in order to lead a happy and fulfilling life.
The art of doing good can be taught to children from a very young age as they learn from observing real life practices of family members especially caregivers. Words can have a great impact on their developing minds and actions can leave lifelong impressions, thus understanding how to explain sensitive issues like poverty, disability, gender equality, differing families etc may help maintain good behavioral health of children.
Goodness as a way of Life
The best way to make a child do what is righteous and kind is to practice what you preach. Children are keen observers and it is a well-established fact that they imitate the actions of elders around them. Simple acts of charity and kindness done by family members at home or outside will catch the attention of children and make them realize that helping others, serving people and being good to others is part of everyday life and conduct. Rituals and traditions are great opportunities to start the conversation around these important virtues as “daan” (charity/donation) have always been an integral part of every culture and religion in India. Children can be part of these celebrations and made to understand the meaning of these customs. Caregivers can begin a practice of making their child visit old age homes, orphanages or places of worship and give away clothes or food or any other essential item to less privileged persons on occasions like birthdays or school result days. It is also, however, a good practice to think about how the members of orphanages and home might feel, to “just” be a part of special days, and forgotten on others. So maybe even make visits more regular.
These practical life experiences will make them understand the joy of giving away and how it impacts someone’s life in a positive way.
Being compassionate in an unequal world
Watching a poor, unkempt child selling toys, balloons or other merchandise or wiping the windscreen for little money on the traffic signal could be a complex experience for children. They may observe that some children/ people in their class are not as privileged as they are. They may notice a stark difference in the way some children dress or live and may search for answers to this puzzle of life.
Although the concept of poverty, hunger and homelessness may be challenging to explain to children, there are several ways by which caregivers can bring home the concept and teach them to be more sensitive and unprejudiced towards these members of the society.
- Simplify the subject by explaining how some people fall on tough times due to job losses, illness, and lack of education. The reasons for the income gap between rich and poor must be explained in order to help the child understand the value of material advantages he/she has and thus he must show empathy towards the less privileged.
- Try to help the right way. Children must be made to understand why you chose to feed the poor man rather than giving him money or donated your child’s old books at a charitable school. Correct messaging about how to help people in need and ways to empower them to come out of their situation will make them compassionate in a responsible way.
- Volunteering and Community service – Encourage children to do little acts of kindness at a community level. Children may get inspired to give away the things that they no longer use at a garage sale that you may organize to generate funds for a charitable cause. Caregiver must let their children know that every action big or small makes a difference.
Embracing Diversity and Respecting Differences
Once children begin interacting with the society at large, they could be stepping out in the neighborhood, meeting other children at school and observing people at public places. They will be exposed to many differences between their family environment, people’s appearances, family set ups, culture etc.
Children must gently be explained that all humans are equal, but everyone’s stories and circumstances are different, and we must act with kindness and compassion with everyone.
Gender Equality – Caregivers must be cautious in using gendered references while purchasing clothes or toys or deciding upon an activity the child wishes to engage in. It is really ok if a boy prefers pink over the blue! Children must be taught that boys and girls can do the same things or play the same sport. Both need to learn to respect each other.
Different Families – Children may have friends who have different family set ups like- single parent, stepparents or siblings, traditional family or modern family etc. Making children understand that every family is unique in its own way will help them treat people coming from different family backgrounds with respect.
Disabilities – Children must be taught to be very sensitive towards people with disabilities and special needs. Caregivers must teach their children to have an attitude of inclusivity and assistance towards disable persons. Tell your child that there is no need to feel awkward around a person with a disability. Infact encourage them to interact with these persons, as it will teach them to value every person and their abilities.
Gratitude towards Nature and Respect for Earth
Mindless human activity has become one of the major threats to Earth and the wellbeing of other living beings. From an early age caregivers must make their children understand that we all are connected to our Mother Earth. Our whole existence is dependent on her health and happiness. Also as humans we need to show compassion for all living beings and elements of Nature- rivers, ponds, mountains, forests, beaches and even our neighborhoods!
Use the dustbin- One of the most basic civic behavioral lessons to teach children is proper waste disposal and shunning the bad habit of littering. It could begin with simply asking the child to throw the candy wrapper in the dustbin. If you see your child picking up someone's used paper cup to clean a park bench, immediately laud him/her for his action and let them know that this is a great way to give back to society and take care of the Earth. Positive reinforcement of such responsible actions will make them practice these habits more often until it becomes a part of their behavior.
Say No to Plastics & Recycle- Plastics are the biggest menace and health hazard in the modern world. It poses so many risks to the wellbeing of all living beings and the Earth. The best way to make children understand about the dangers of plastic is to make them experience its ill effects through various mediums.
Everything is useful- Do not let your child hop on the ‘use and throw’ bandwagon ! Children are innately creative and their imagination can be put to great use by involving them in DIY projects for recycling general household products like, empty cans, bottles, socks etc. You must begin with teaching children how to sort trash and the importance of why a particular waste must go in a specific colored waste bin. Once they begin understanding how waste disposal impacts the environment, they will ensure to practice good waste disposal by themselves and others.
Caregivers can watch videos with children on making things by recycling and provide them with necessary supplies. Followed by a little supervision here and little nudge there, in no time the little geniuses will turn an old shoe box into a beautiful birdhouse or that lonely left out single sock into a talking laughing hand puppet!
These small activities will make them value resources and open up their imagination to make new use of things they already have.
Be kind to every living being
In our ancient scriptures the Vedas a sanskrit shlok - Jeeveshu Karuna Chapi Maitri Teshu Vidhiytam , summarizes the essence of showing kindness towards all living beings. Children may not understand that sometimes their actions may cause harm to animals or plants. Habits like pulling a pet’s tail or ears, pelting stones at a stray, plucking flowers and leaves in the park etc are conducts that need to be checked immediately.
- Caregivers must have open talks with the child about why it is important to be nice to animals and plants. Children can be taken to places where they can observe animal behavior and experience the serenity of Nature.
- Books on animals and plants are a great way to teach more about many species of animals and plants and how they all together constitute to make Earth a beautiful planet.
- Pretending and playing with soft animal toys is an interactive way to teach how to behave with animals lovingly.
- Encourage children to participate in plantation drives and teach them the importance of trees in our lives. Caregivers can make the child adopt a plant at home/park and assign them the responsibility of its watering and care.
Kindness, compassion and empathy are both innate and learned behaviors that can be enhanced in children by positive reinforcement. It is important to develop these virtues in children as little acts of goodness go a long way in making life beautiful. A kind and compassionate child will have a pleasant demeanor and better emotional expression. They need to be told that there are several ways to give back to society even as a child. Wishing the neighbors with a smile, helping an old lady with her grocery bags, helping a classmate with the homework, checking on an ill relative or assisting family members in daily chores are a few simple ways to show that you do care!
Cheering even the smallest kind deeds will encourage them to become a better member of the society and give them a strong message that they are capable of making a difference in this world.