Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how to raise kind and compassionate children. I think I know how to teach them to have compassion for those they know personally, but I’m not sure I know how to teach them to have compassion and take some responsibility for people they don’t personally know. For that matter I’m not sure if I know how to do that myself.
Let’s face it — a lot of the kids in America are raised in white, middle-class suburbia. This is where I’m raising my own children. There are actually some really great things about raising your kids in an area like this. There are usually a lot of other children to play with and studies have shown that playtime for children is very important. There are great community programs to get your kids involved in (as long as you don’t overload them, but that’s another post), and it is often a safe place to raise your kids.
One of the things that concern me most about raising my children in this environment is the strong possibility that they will become very egocentric. It seems to me that the way a lot of children are raised leads them to believe that their parents’ lives and the lives of many others (teachers, coaches, friends) should revolve around them. I’m wondering how you would avoid this.
A couple of days ago I was with a group of women from church, all mothers, and I asked them how they went about teaching their children how to have compassion for those who are less fortunate than they are and how to be grateful for the blessings they have. Most of the answers were a long the lines of, “Oh, I give Johnny a list of chores and if he doesn’t finish them than he doesn’t go anywhere.” Or “I make him work for his allowance, if he doesn’t get his jobs done he doesn’t get paid.” I’m sure that those examples will teach children about hard work and money, but I’m not sure that it gets at teaching your kids to think of others on a more global level.
How do you teach your children how extremely fortunate they are to live the quality of life they do? How do you really show them that most of the people on the planet, past and present, have experienced life at a much less privileged and much more difficult level then they do? I guess I’m wondering how you teach them to have true and deep gratitude for their blessings and a willingness to help those around them.