In an attempt to flood my social media feeds with positivity, I follow what I consider are some really great people, companies, blogs, and personal accounts. People like Jen Hatmaker and Col. Chris Hadfield, and blogs and companies like Happy Soul Project, Humans of New York, and A Mighty Girl. Ted, The Better Mom, Brene Brown… there are incredible people sharing ideas that are sure to expose us to lives and lifestyles that are different than our own. As adults, I feel like many of us are trying to live better, happier, healthier, fuller lives.
I’m sure you’ve heard that the best (maybe the only) way to feel a genuine sense of contentment is to live in thanksgiving for the life we have, regardless of our circumstances. Many of us are getting it. Or at least we’re working on it. But let’s face it. We’re kinda crapping out at raising thankful kids.
Maybe it’s nearly impossible for our spoiled first world babies to really grasp the reality of how fortunate they are. But there are some things we can do to help build a spirit of thankful kids. And the natural byproduct of thankful kids will be empathy for others in a broken and sad world. If your heart desires to have kids who see the world and want to leave it better, these ideas will put your family on a great path.
- Teach your children the value of money. From a young age, speak about money like it is precious. Teach them money is not to be wasted. And then teach them to be generous with it. Pass out quarters for Salvation Army Christmas kettles, give to veterans on Memorial Day, and allow them to choose gifts for others, and teach them how to pay. The physical act of paying with cash will resonate with them, and leave a long-lasting impression of the power of money. Therefore, they will understand the hardship of not having money.
- When your children are in pre-school, help them clean out their toys and clothes. Drive them to a place where they can donate excess to toy drives and shelters, or to an organization that will re-sell them for charity. Discuss who will receive the items. Praise them for their generosity. Then repeat till your kids are grown.
- Make your kids do crappy jobs for others. Rake the neighbor’s lawn. Cut the grass (for free!) of an elderly friend. Do it with them. Or do your own thing and make sure your kids see it. Do it because it’s kind. No more explanation necessary.
- Discuss from a very young age how other people feel. When friends are mean, talk about how they might be having a hard time at home. Or that others have possibly been mean to them. When people do things they shouldn’t, talk about how they may not have a mom or dad who taught them to follow rules. Continue this appropriately into teen hood. You don’t even have to believe it. But it will allow your kids to see that there are reasons for behavior. Even our kids aren’t always kind, or always well behaved (right?). That doesn’t make them bullies or bad kids, and we often make excuses for them. Pass that kindness on to others.
- Stop sheltering your kids. At 11 or 12, most kids are ready to be exposed to a wider view of the world. They need to hear about those who live differently than they do. Whether it’s learning about LGBTQ, those who partake in drugs or alcohol, or discussing homelessness, there are lots of things our kids are going to be exposed to, because you told them, or because the world shows them. If they learn from you, you can direct the conversation. Whether you agree with how others live or not, you have the chance to teach them that all people are worthy of love and respect. The world isn’t going to teach them that.
- Make a conscious effort to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. When you see a homeless person, discuss that maybe he made a few bad choices which spiraled out of control. When you see someone who is drug addicted, talk about how easy it is to become addicted to substances and how it’s a medical problem. Always always always assume the best of someone first. It’s simply how you would want others to treat you, and your children. The Golden Rule also applies to unkind people, and those in dire straits.
Here’s the hardest part. Sometimes, your kids will be kind and generous, and will go out of their way to help others and it won’t be appreciated. Sometimes they’ll give change to a person on the street and they’ll buy whiskey with it. Sometimes they’ll be kind to someone at school and will be treated meanly in return. These things happen in a broken world.
Above all else, teach your children to be kind and generous no matter what! Teach them to choose to do what feels right – what they would be proud to say they did – regardless of what others do with their generosity. It’s not about the other person’s heart. It’s about the heart of your child.