By Guest Blogger Erin Althaus
These days it’s hard to turn on the television. It can be scary to turn on the news or look at your Facebook feed. And it’s not exciting to listen to the radio.
Hurting of one kind or another is all around us. Here a man shoots and kills people. There a hurricane (or several) ravages a country. Then there are the wild fires and earthquakes. And even when something terrible isn’t happening at the moment, it isn’t always encouraging to watch the nightly news. Sometimes it can make you want to run away, get off the grid, hunker down with your family and ignore it all. But we know that isn’t the answer.
With all the negativity, sadness, hatred and despair, it can be hard to raise children. It’s hard to know what to say and do with them. It’s hard to answer their questions about what, and especially why, things are happening. We want our children to care for others but much of the world is only interested in self. Our culture is about climbing to the top, being successful and making a lot of money. It’s about playing lots of sports in hopes of getting a scholarship. It’s about studying really hard so you get into a great college. And those things are important. But so is seeing the hurt of others around us and in our world and doing something about it. Compassion is a characteristic that we need to teach our kids in this hurt and broken world.
We are here to make a difference. We can show compassion to those in need, and we can work to make this world better, one step at a time. But how do we do this? It’s actually easier than you might think to help your child become the compassionate, giving person you want them to be.
So how do we teach our kids compassion? We teach them to serve.
The great Martin Luther King summarized the importance of compassion and helping others when he said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?’”
The easiest way to teach them to serve is to serve WITH them! Of course we can and should model service. But when learning new things kids need to “do” and not just watch. Just like we use flashcards to teach math skills, serving others together will help them learn compassion from the experience of doing.
Children can start serving at very young ages. Start inside your home and think about ways that you can teach your toddlers and preschoolers to serve their own family. Have them help around the house and praise them when they do. This will give them positive reinforcement.
As children grow older they can begin to do more service for those outside of your home. Children as young as 4 years old can do some pretty amazing things for others! Making cookies for firefighters, coloring pictures for veterans, singing at a nursing home, putting together hygiene kits for flood victims, learning about refugees, collecting food for the food bank, the list goes on and on.
The older the children, the bigger the projects! Serving breakfast at Greensboro Urban Ministry, making centerpieces for Potters House, cleaning up your favorite playground, reading to refugee children, painting rocks with nice sayings and leaving them for others to find, putting money in someone’s parking meter or raking your neighbor’s leaves as a surprise.
Find a church, synagogue or community center and find out what activities they might already have that you can participate in. Or create your own service activities to do together as family.
Serving together will not only help you raise more compassionate kids, but also offers a ton of benefits including:
- Makes you happier
- Helps you live longer
- Lowers blood pressure
- Teaches important leadership skills
- Builds community
- Increases social skills
- Lowers stress and anxiety
- Gives you a sense of purpose
Children who serve others are more likely to be giving, caring, thinking of others, helpful, compassionate, loving, inclusive, less self centered, more aware of others, and better able to relate to those around them.
Serving can be fun! And if you make it a fun experience for kids, not only will they learn to help others, they will seek it out themselves. They will see a homeless person and ask if they can help. They might hear about a friend at school who doesn’t have many toys and ask if they can share some of theirs. As your child grows and matures, he or she will be aware of the hurting around them. But instead of just feeling sadness and despair for those around, children who serve will feel empowered and full of hope because they know they can help and make a difference.
We can’t stop bad things from happening in this world, and we will never be able to explain them. But we can reach out and help others in an effort to make this world a better place. It’s overwhelming to think of all the hurt and all the need. But we just have to start with one – one person, one family, one community at a time.
Erin Althaus is the Director of Children’s Ministry at West Market Church in downtown Greensboro. Erin and the Family Ministry team at West Market Church teach kids ages 4 years old – 5th grade to serve in weekly mission projects on Wednesday afternoons throughout the school year. For more information or to sign up, visit https://www.westmarketchurch.org/wednesday-mission-programs.