I suspect every dad can point to children who are “living the dream” in their families. They have just about everything they want when they want it. They may have the latest video game consoles, the coolest clothes and the nicest home. And yet, often these children are also less tolerant, more selfish and with potentially even more “spoiled” behavior than others who have less. In some cases, we might even recognize these kids as our own children. Can teaching children compassion, giving and charity help overcome some of these negative characteristics?
One of our most important family values has been compassion – the idea of helping care for those less fortunate than we are and to share what we have with those in need. We have worked hard to help our children have a charitable ethic, and to share their time, talents and resources with those who are less well off than we are. If you would like to help instill that compassion “gene” in your children, consider these ten tips for helping them engage in the spirit of giving:
1. Volunteer as a family. Part of our charity ethic has been to look for opportunities to volunteer as a family in service to others. One elderly resident in our neighborhood has a landscaped island in front of his home that he was no longer physically able to care for. Our family offered to keep it weeded, watered and looking attractive simply for the joy of having done something for someone else. We have some great memories of working hard on sweltering Saturday mornings during the summer to keep the landscaping looking nice.
2. Seek other service opportunities. Our three boys were all involved in Scouting, and all three received their Eagle scout award. They needed lots of service opportunities that required time and money to accomplish. So we tried to involve our family in those Eagle Scout projects along with the Scouts in our sons’ troops. We recorded books on tape for the children’s unit at a local hospital, recorded headstone information for digitizing at a pioneer cemetery, and helped with a video to encourage drivers to walk around their cars before backing up so protect children from being accidentally run over. Often PTA’s, church groups and scout groups will create service opportunities, and we can help our children participate and thus see the benefit of service in the lives of others.
3. Participate in Sub for Santa. For many years at Christmas time, we have been involved in the Sub for Santa program. Many years, we purchased Christmas gifts for the children of a needy family and donated them. Our children got to be involved in picking out the gifts, and in many cases helped pay for them. Other years as the kids got older, we volunteered to deliver bags of these gifts to the disadvantaged families on or near Christmas Eve and our kids loved seeing the grateful looks in the eyes of the parents as we filled in for Santa Claus. The spirit of giving is alive at Christmas time, and the benefits can be more evident and obvious at that time of year.
4. Work on homemade projects for others. Several of our children got involved at school with humanitarian projects like knitting caps for premature babies, assembling hygiene kits for storm victims, or gathering shoes or coats for disadvantaged families. Some of these carried over into our home as we worked on knitting, crocheting, or quilting projects. When we let our children experience the input of personal effort, time and talents for the good of others, they can get the spirit of compassion and charity.
5. Donate excess toys. One family we know has a goal in November to sort through the old toys with each child and try to find about a third of them that could be given to others. The kids feel that they are giving a part of themselves to others, and it has the added benefit of making space for new toys at Christmas time!
6. Saving coins during the year for donating. We have long had a large mug into which we put our pocket change every day, and the stated goal of the change collection is to have money at the end of the year to help another family at Christmas. Over a year’s time, we can collect between $150 and $200, and then we can use it to give to a needy family or to buy gifts to share with Toys for Tots or a similar charity. It is a constantly reinforced message during the whole year about saving for the opportunity to give.
7. Shop for another family’s dinner. There is a great need all year long for food donations in every community, but one family we know heads to the grocery store a few days before Thanksgiving and gets a box together with all of the trimmings for Thanksgiving dinner. Then, the box is taken along with a frozen turkey to the food bank or to a local church to be given to family in need. The kids love being involved in the shopping as they select their favorite foods, and they get to feel the blessing of being a part of someone else’s holiday happiness.
8. Have some cookie nights. When our kids were teens, they had a tradition of getting together at the home of one of the group and making cookies about once a month or so and then delivering them to kids from school who might feel excluded or unloved. It was a great expression of compassion and friendship, and because they were doing it as a group, they made their own friendships even stronger.
9. Share stories about giving role models. Every now and again in the news, there is a story of a group of doctors or dentists who go to a third world country to offer free care. Make sure and watch those videos or read stories of those who go the extra mile in serving. These stories can provide great role models for our families about charity and giving of one’s self in service to others.
10. Do a review after each giving experience. Take some time after having given time, talents, money or service and ask how the kids feel about it. Let them hear from you about the blessings of service in your life, and from each other about their service experiences. Some quick reminders about how good service feels can help reinforce the message of the importance of compassion and charity.
Helping children learn about the blessings of service and charity by their own experiences is a critical role for fathers who want to help their children learn important life values. It is worth the investment of time and energy and will help your children not only learn to be giving, but will keep their perspective about material things in its proper place.
By Wayne Parker