One of the biggest battles we face in this techno-frenzied world we live in is staying connected to one another. If we connected with one another as often as we connect to WiFi the world would be a dramatically different place. Teaching our children to love, and serve, and give of themselves in a world that eats, drinks, and sleeps self-gratification is challenging to say the least. But, if we want to change the world, I contend that teaching our children the joy of giving of themselves is the most powerful and effective thing we can do to have a lasting impact. It is the greatest legacy we can leave them. And it isn’t as hard as you think.
1- Start by helping them understand how blessed they really are. I know we want to shelter our kids from the sadness in the world and we want to give them everything we never got as a child, but sometimes kids need a reality check. They get so caught up in their stuff and their screens that they start to lose their connection to people. And if they are surrounded by others who have as much as they do, they can be completely oblivious to the needs in the world around them and take all they have for granted.
It is important to teach our kids to recognize and be grateful for their blessings. If we want them to be kind, loving, compassionate people, a grateful heart is a very good start. Gratitude for their blessings goes hand-in-hand with the humility of remembering where those blessings come from. Kids who stay in that zone will avoid developing a selfish and prideful attitude that often leads to bullying, violence, and entitlement. A desire to help others grows out of a heart filled with gratitude.
So, use YouTube to give them a glimpse of the world outside their four walls. Show them kids who have next to nothing and who are still happy and grateful for what they do have. Show them videos of people providing service to those in need all over the world. Let them see the joy that comes to those who choose to reach outside themselves and help someone else.
To get you started, I love the smiles on the kid’s faces in this video when all they have to play with is an old tire. And this video will show your kids the difference between 1st world problems and 3rd world problems. If you want something to show your kids they have the power to make a real difference even at a young age, this is a fantastic video showing how one ten year old kid with a passion for soccer decided to make a difference in the lives of kids who were less fortunate. It might spark a conversation and a desire in your kids to reach out to others in some way. I’m not recommending you traumatize your kids with the really devastating images of children suffering. But, there are plenty of videos that can help them see how blessed they really are without doing that. Prescreen the videos and choose ones that are appropriate for the age and maturity level of your children. All of the videos have have mentioned would be appropriate for kids of all ages.
2- Give them a first-hand experience. Look for an opportunity in your own community for your kids to give service to those who are struggling. A homeless shelter, a women and children’s center, a rest home, a facility for the disabled– give them a chance to see what hardship looks like and to serve someone in need. There is no substitute for this first hand experience. You really can’t duplicate or experience by proxy the joy that comes from serving others. It is a feeling that can become addicting and fill a void in their souls that they might otherwise try to fill in unhealthy ways.
3- Let them come up with their own plan to serve others. If it is their plan, they will be more excited about it. Guide them through the process of putting their plan into action and give them whatever support they need to make their plan a reality. Don’t be negative if their plan seems a little lofty. Amazing things can happen when people’s hearts are in the right place and they decide to act on a desire to do good. You might just be amazed at what your kids can accomplish when they set their minds to it.
4- Make service and giving and on-going conversation and experience. Sometimes we focus on reaching out and giving to others around the holidays and then forget about it for the rest of the year. Make giving and serving a year-round experience for your family so that it becomes a part of who your kids are. When you go to serve someone, take one of your kids with you. Show them that even little acts of service and kindness matter. A smile, a note, a hug, a meal, a ride– all simple acts that can bring hope to someone’s life and change someone’s day for the better.
There is a story of a man who was ready to take his life. He determined if no one acknowledged his existence that day he would end it. Gratefully, someone followed the prompting to reach out to him that day. Just a smile and a small conversation saved is life and changed it forever. Teach your children that though we may not always have the means to give to others in terms of money and things, what people in this world need even more than anything is our time, our listening ears, our loving hearts. The human connection is the most powerful and trans-formative possession we have to offer others. Teaching our kids how to connect in meaningful ways with others is the greatest gift we can give them. It will ensure a life filled with joy and meaning regardless of what life throws out them. And they will affect countless others for good by living their lives this way.
The wonderful thing about choosing to actively teach our children the joy of giving is that it will change our own lives in the process. We all know the most powerful form of teaching is example, so if we really want our kids to learn this life lesson, we will need to model it on a regular basis. It can be life-changing for our entire family if we choose to make service and giving one of our main focuses each day. It will bring unity, peace, and a spirit of love into our homes that can come in no other way. So, I am challenging myself and you to make this a goal that we actively work on in the coming year. I know I have a lot of improving to do, but I also know there is not a more valuable way I can spend my time.
What are some ways you’ve been able to teach your children the joy of giving?