A friend of mine recently confided that she’s afraid her kids are self-absorbed because she’s somehow failed them.
I get what she’s saying. My own daughter is so immersed in Curious George and her demand for snacks and playtime that it would never occur to her that most children in the world lead lives vastly different from her own. But the idea of taking on one more “learning experience” to teach my kid about social responsibility sounds daunting. Also? Not particularly fun. Plus, I don’t have the time or energy to serve soup at a homeless shelter every Friday night from now until my kid turns 18. Because that’s what it would take, right?
Child development expert Denise Daniels, however, disagrees with my assumption about the parental exhaustion required to teach social awareness to our kids. “Teachable moments are built into our everyday lives,” she explains. “They may take a little extra thought, but they certainly don’t have to take much extra time or effort.”
Daniels suggests the following everyday activities to teach social awareness and empathy to our children.
1. Participate in a coat drive. Pack up a coat that’s grown too small and take it to a local charity, with your kid in tow.
2. Recycle at home. Recycling is so easy to do, but it teaches your kid that people are stewards of the earth and its resources.
3. Prepare a meal together for someone in need. Did you best friend just have a surgery? Whip together a casserole with your child, and deliver it for a personal touch.
4. Teach through exposure. Talk to your kid about what he’s thinking when you see a panhandler on the street, or drive through a community that’s different from your own.
5. Give one compliment a day. Teach your child the power of positive words by handing out compliments freely — to your family and complete strangers.
6. Share a positive story from the news. It’s not all doom and gloom. Good things are happening out there, often as a result of socially responsible people.
7. Ask for birthday party donations. Encourage your kid to accept charitable donations at his birthday party, instead of gifts.
8. Donate a book. Many libraries accept donations of old books for kids in need.
9. Write to a pen pal. Expand your child’s horizons by linking him or her with a pen pal from another country.
10. Turn off the lights. Conservation is key to a socially responsible life.
11. Travel to learn. Cruises are great, but traveling to learn about the world is instrumental in the development of a well-rounded person.
12. Tell a story. Pick out a few books for bedtime that tell stories about people who do great things for others.
See? Not so bad. “Remember that our society benefits from children who grow into socially responsible adults,” Daniels concludes. “By instilling simple, everyday values in our children, we’re teaching them to leave the world a better place.” No soup kitchen required, unless it resonates with you or your kid.