As long as you are breathing, you are either taking from the world, or giving back to it. Teaching your child how to give back is one of the biggest ways you continue to give back. As most parents know, what you do has a greater impact on your kids than what you say. They will be watching as you teach by modeling learning...say something important by listening intently...receive fulfillment by giving away your time and treasure to a cause greater than yourself...and make your voice heard by amplifying the voices of others. This isn't difficult to do, but it doesn't just happen on its own. It requires intention. And it's never too early to start.
Look for ways you and your children can listen and learn together.
Show your kids that learning is a lifelong process. Explore the world beyond your own gate. Go to museums; read books; pay attention to current events; learn about history, religion and cultures outside of your own. Forge relationships with others from diverse backgrounds. Ask grandparents to share stories of their past experiences and personal struggles. All of this enables your children to put themselves in other people's shoes and develop an empathy and compassion that is crucial to improving the world for everyone.
Model the behaviors you want your kids to emulate.
Demonstrate what it means to be a good citizen. Take them with you to vote. Talk to them about the electoral process. Describe your volunteer work. Tell them about the causes you support and why you chose to make them a priority. Discuss age-appropriate current events at the dinner table. Invite friends and co-workers from diverse backgrounds to your home and visit them in theirs when invited. Introduce your children to food, customs, holidays and traditions from other cultures. Read the paper and educational magazines both in front of them and to them. Let them witness your continuing education about the world around you. Share with them about a time you changed your stance on an issue after listening to the other side's arguments. It's important for them to see that beliefs and priorities can evolve as you continue to learn and seek out new perspectives.
Encourage them to get involved.
Plan a summer project or field trip your family can do around giving back to the community. Participate in family-friendly volunteer events. Encourage them to give gifts that support a cause or to opt out of receiving gifts themselves and instead set up a fundraiser for a cause near to their hearts. Support them in a run for student council office. Enroll them in scouts, youth groups, or other organizations that center activities around serving others. Share with them what other kids are doing and nurture their creativity in finding ways they can offer their own unique skills and talents to the world.
There's no shortage of examples, but here are just a few more of my favorites:
- Several years ago, my son's friend requested that guests to his 9th birthday party make a donation to the Wounded Warrior Fund in lieu of giving him presents. My son wanted to be able to give him a tangible gift in addition to the donation we made, so he used his budding journalistic skills to write a pretend "newspaper" article about what his friend was doing and why. He printed it out, framed it, and gave it to his friend as a memento of his 9th birthday and an expression of admiration for his friend's generosity.
- My two teenagers set aside a portion of their allowances each month, which they donate to the nonprofit of their choice during the holidays in honor of their teachers. My husband and I match their donations. This not only teaches them the importance of contributing to causes that are important to them, but also enables them to learn about various worthy organizations as they research where they want to send their money.
- A family friend's young daughter wanted to find a way to help people she saw begging at intersections without merely giving them money. She and her mom purchased individually-wrapped snacks and other essential items and assembled care packs to keep in the car and hand out the car window when they encountered someone in need.
- A few years ago, several members of my local community planned a family potluck "Diversity Dinner" for neighbors to get to know each other and celebrate the wide array of cultures represented in our local area. Attendees came from a broad spectrum of races, religions and cultures. Everyone was encouraged to bring a favorite traditional dish, as well as a canned food donation for the local food pantry, and to sit with someone they didn't already know. The kids each traced their hands on colored paper and cut the handprints out to become leaves on a community tree poster. The group then took a candlelight walk around the neighborhood, in which all neighbors were invited to participate to foster a sense of inclusivity. My kids each made new friends that night who attended their school but whom they hadn't previously met!
Every voice matters. Even the smallest effort can make the biggest difference to one person. Empower your children from a young age to become the change they wish to see in the world. Download and print out the Raise Good Citizens PDF to get started.
With a little bit of contagious enthusiasm and the desire to keep learning, growing and contributing, even raising good citizens can be easy peasy.