As parents, we all want our kids to grow up to be compassionate, generous adults who serve others well. And if you watch your kids closely, you’ll see evidence of empathy in their nature – in how they kiss their stuffed animals, doctor your (fake) boo-boos, and freely give their love to family pets (sometimes too much love).
But their natural capacity for compassion has to compete with a number of other developmental and environmental forces. A kid’s lack of impulse control prompts them to snatch their toy from their sister. And their belief that they are the center of the universe makes it difficult for them to let their friend choose which movie they watch. Those factors, combined with our self-centered culture can make it feel impossible to raise a kid who is servant-hearted.
Service is defined as “Lending a hand to help someone else.” How can we teach our kids to embody this principle? How can we teach our kids to use their hands to give instead of taking?
Here are a few ideas:
1. Be a servant
Our kids are watching what we do all the time. They observe how we treat servers at restaurants. They see how we treat our spouses and other family members. They’re watching how we choose to give (or not to give) of our time and resources, and how WE go out of our way to help someone else in need. Our words, thoughts, and actions will influence our kids’ words, thoughts, and actions more than we can know.
2. Create a rhythm of service
It seems easier to focus on serving others over the holidays, but what about the rest of the year? Serving year-round teaches you and your family to actively look for ways to help others. Set a few family, service-oriented goals for 3 months at a time. Ask your kids to think of a few ideas of how they can serve in their school or in their community. Write them down and post them where everyone can see. And remember, service isn’t always about money. Your family can give their time, talents, and resources to those in need.
3. Reinforce what you want to be repeated
Just like with any other behavior you want to be repeated, we should make a BIG deal when our kids lend a hand to help others. Even something as simple as helping you put away groceries should be encouraged and rewarded with words of thanks! Look for ways your kids are serving and praise them in front of others. Remind them that even small acts of service can make a big difference in the world around them.
Don’t know where to start? Just chose one suggestion and go from there. Watch with wonder as your kid learns to lend a hand to help someone else.