Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Kind Heart of Children

Working at a preschool, I am frequently reminded of the kind heart that young children possess.  I see it revealed when they rush in to help a sad friend or offer excited ideas about helping in any situation brought to their attention.  I truly believe that children are born into our world with the tenderest and most loving heart.

The challenge for parents is to protect that young heart and help a maturing child not fall prey to our selfish societal norms, but to help a child's heart grow in kindness and helpfulness as their bodies and minds grow and mature.  A few examples come to mind.  I remember when Hurricane Katrina hit the gulf coast in the U.S. and a group of school age children responded in my Chicago area neighborhood by raising money for the American Red Cross.  I know children who have held lemonade stands and donated proceeds to a local animal shelter, or a neighbor girl, who instead of birthday presents, asked for donations for a local charity.  And most recently, I know of a group of fourth grade boys, so moved by the courage of a child suffering with cancer, that they mobilized their grade school to make donations to help support the family during this difficult time.

So what can parents do to foster this type of love and concern on the part of their children?  Here are a few ideas:

1.  Model kindness and charity in your own lives.  Set goals for yourself, such as an act of kindness a day, or an act of charity each month.  Whatever makes sense for you and is achievable.  Then share your goals with your children and allow them to witness your participation.  Children truly learn what they live...so by doing this you will be planting the seeds of kindness within them.

2.  Encourage them to think of others.  Research confirms that children who have greater social and emotional skills fare better in the world than those who do not.  So by taking the time to teach your children to think of others, you will secretly be benefiting them as well.  A good place to start is your local library where you can find books that can help you teach your children about thinking of others and practicing kindness.

3.  Acquaint them with religious beliefs.  Universally, religion emphasizes ideals such as caring for your neighbor and thinking about issues larger than your self.  These ideas can motivate individuals to work for the greater good, and not be completely dependent on worldly possessions and a life of self satisfaction over personal relationships.

4.  Support their efforts.  If your child has an idea that involves reaching out to others encourage it, support it, and help them to make it happen.  All of this effort will be worth it to you and your child, as it will strengthen the relationship between both of you and help your child to develop confidence in his/her ideas and ability to make them happen.

5.  Take pride in making the world a better place.  By raising a compassionate and caring child, you will be offering our world a gift.  The more we as parents can do to encourage our children to mature into caring and kind adults, the better off your family, your community and ultimately our world will be.  So make this a priority.

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