Many adults claim that today’s youth are self-centered and hedonistic. What they don’t realize is that such claims have been around for thousands of years, at least as far back as Greece’s golden age, when philosophers like Plato and Aristotle made similar observations about the youth of their era.
It’s in the nature of kids to become preoccupied with self interests as they mature. But by the time they reach adolescence, they should be learning how to care for the needs of others as well as their own. It’s up to parents to show them how to do this.
Here are a few suggested ways to train your child in this useful and important quality:
- Start when they’re young. Even preschoolers can be taught to offer toys to other children or to help pick up clutter around the house. This lays the groundwork for helping them see the need to look beyond themselves and care about what is going on around them, taking an active role in caring for others.
- Get them involved in a club, group, or program that propels youth into the community to assist the elderly, poor, or needy with specific tasks, such as cleaning a house, picking up trash, or mowing a lawn. If there isn’t a group your kids can join, get them to help a neighbor who can benefit from their assistance.
- Train children to respect their elders. Take them to visit great-Aunt Martha or offer a gift to a retired teacher’s aide. Expect them to write thank-you notes for thoughtful gifts or services they receive, and encourage them to send cards to soldiers or shut-ins over the holidays.
- Be a good role model. If you are not already doing something, find a project or care ministry that you can join to help others in need. Volunteering at the hospital or a social service agency, delivering meals to senior citizens, or leading a free class on writing or ceramics at the nursing home provides a terrific example of service to others. Take your kids along sometime so they can watch and learn.
- Emphasize holiday opportunities to help others. Baking cookies for a disabled person, caroling outside the house of someone who has lost a loved one, or making a home-made gift for a person who lives alone shows a thoughtful and caring attitude.
- Guide them to sensitivity toward public service. After an especially enjoyable hotel stay, restaurant meal, or school field trip, ask your children to send a thank-you note of appreciation. Even though such messages are unexpected generally, the professionals who receive them will be grateful and your kids will get to practice additional thoughtful acts.
- Look for special opportunities. If a child enrolls at school from another country, a disabled person moves in next door, or a terminally ill person is introduced at church, remind your children of the special needs these people might have, and give some thought to a family project geared toward assisting them in a special way, whether it’s everyone helping to make a hot meal to take over or chipping in to buy a new vacuum sweeper.
Helping others is more than an action, it’s an attitude of caring and willingness to serve others. Don’t neglect the opportunity of cultivating this important trait in your children’s lives.