The news today is filled with terribly tragic stories. It saddens me that it seems like every day the news reports yet another incident of bullying, a school shooting, or of children hurting other people (A game of Knock Out, anyone? Sheesh!). I try to have hope and faith that an upcoming generation of children will be able to turn that all around. In order for them to do so, though, it is up to the parents, mentors, teachers, and caregivers to recognize the potential in children to BE the caring, compassionate, and charitable children that we know they can be!
Every day spent with my two-year old charges is a learning experience. I do my best to teach them how small things, such as manners and kind words, can make other people smile. But with each passing day that I turn on the news to hear these awful stories, I yearn to do more with them so that they can be the heroes in the world instead of the villains. There are many simple, obvious things that we can do with our charges to teach them how to care and “give-back,” such as gifting old toys, donating the money from a lemonade stand to charity, or cleaning up garbage at the playground. However, let’s dig deeper to see what we can do to teach kids of ANY age how to be a hero!
Where can we start? Emily Libby, Communications Coordinator for the non-profit Kids Included Together (KIT), suggests teaching children to, “Smile and say hello. Know that everyone is unique and has a story to tell. They may just be your next best friend. You will never know until you try and say hi.” This is certainly a good way to start, especially with younger children. Knowing that a smile can make a big difference in someone’s day is the perfect jumping-off point to teach children that we can care for others, even people they don’t know, with even the slightest gestures. Jaime Reinwald of the non-profit For the Love of Jersey, an organization which has been helping the state of New Jersey recover in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, says you can teach smaller children to be caring and compassionate by doing something as simple as making cards for veterans. Another suggestion is to help your charges bring some of their gently used toys to a used toy drive, with their parents’ permission, of course. “Letting them choose what to give away and bringing them to drop it off is an excellent teaching tool.” Jaime also says that as the children get older, the best way to teach is to lead by example. “You can get in touch with a nursing home to visit on Grandparent’s Day (or any day!) to encourage kindness. The children can read to the elderly or even have tea parties!”
With older children, there are even more opportunities to teach them to give back. “Around 8 years of age, you can start including them in more organized efforts of volunteer work, such as toy and food drives,” says Jaime, “It teaches them to give back as well as planning and responsibility, two very important building blocks to their future.” Melanie Pipkinkozel, a Media Relations Lead for the American Red Cross, contributes to the topic by sharing what the Red Cross feels is the best way to teach children to be compassionate and charitable. She says that a good way to start is to connect with your local American Red Cross chapter or club at your charge’s school. If there is not a Red Cross club at their school, you can help them start one! Then, you can help them to coordinate blood drives and host fundraisers to help their fellow neighbors when disaster strikes. Why is it important and beneficial for children, especially middle and high school ages, to connect with the American Red Cross? Melanie says, “When you volunteer with the Red Cross, you’re supporting one of the largest humanitarian organizations in the world and making a positive impact on your peers and in your community. A person can also maximize their talent, learn new skills, improve their resume and meet new people all while making a meaningful difference in the lives of others!” And when it comes to the young ones, Melanie agrees, “Even something as simple as a lemonade stand can help to bring in donations to the Red Cross and make a difference in someone’s life!”
To find out how you and your charges can get involved in your community, use your online and community resources. Check for places or programs in your area that will accept donations or even a nice card to brighten someone’s day. You can ask your charge which organization they would like to help with or be a part of. At the youngest age, simply knowing that a smile or a card can help someone in need know there is another person out there who cares about their well-being is a step toward becoming a compassionate human being.
Here are some resources to help you and your charges get started!
- Kids Are Heroes – http://kidsareheroes.org/
- American Red Cross – http://www.redcross.org/
- Alex’s Lemonade Stand – http://www.alexslemonade.org/
- Traveling Postcards – http://www.travelingpostcards.org/
- Free Rice – http://freerice.com/#/english-vocabulary/1516 (Play a game and for each answer you get right, Free Rice will donate 10 grains of rice through the World Food Programme to help end hunger!)
- Volunteer Match – http://www.volunteermatch.org/