In today's world of fast food, video games and social media, it can be harder than ever before to cultivate kindness and caring in our children. Between school and our endless scurrying back and forth to activities, taking the time to sit together as a family, eating a home-cooked meal and talking about how things are going can get lost. It is all too easy to race through your days without getting to know your neighbors, without turning off the television to read a book, without stopping to help others in need or even picking up the trash that spilled by your curb.
Yet, in today's interconnected world, with the big problems we face, it is more essential than ever to find connections with others and help our kids care about others and their environment. It won't happen overnight, but by trying on a few of these easy ideas, you and your kids can make a big difference.
Give To Others
Through a charity called Kiva (kiva.org), my son and I have been able to make several micro loans to help change lives around the world. As recipients repay each loan, we sit down and choose someone else to re-loan the money to—someone who is seeking to raise their family out of poverty through their own ingenuity.
So far, we have helped dozens of people with a small investment of $25. We helped a group of women start a general store in Uganda, and another group of women start a used clothing store in Uganda. We provided money for a man expanding his milk business in Azerbaijan, a group of women establishing a shoe store in the Dominican Republic, a man starting a general store in Kenya and a woman expanding her family farm in Samoa. We also helped a woman starting a weaving business in Cambodia, another to expand her poultry business in Kenya, a man to start a taxi business in Bolivia and another to expand his café in Iraq.
My son loves to look at the pictures of the people and their businesses and imagine what their lives are like around the world from where we are. When my 3-year-old is a little older, we can make our giving an even bigger project by finding all the countries on a map and learning more about them from library books.
Some other kid-friendly charities we love include Heifer International (heifer.org; livestock), Pennies for Peace (penniesforpeace.org; schools), the Green Belt Movement (greenbeltmovement.org; conservation and tree planting), and the Make-a-Wish Foundation (wish.org; for sick children).
Clean Out the Crap
Get your kids involved in cleaning out the house and cutting down on clutter. I am preparing to put my house on the market sometime this spring. I am excited about downsizing with my son and living in a smaller space together. And I am astounded by the amount of stuff we have, most of which we don't even use. We just buy more containers to hold more stuff!
Now that it is time to lighten our load, my son is helping to choose the books and toys and clothes and shoes we can trade at a consignment store or give to other children who have less than we do. Get your kids involved in clearing out too-small clothes and too-babyish toys to give away. Ask for help cleaning out the cupboards during canned-food drives. Brainstorm about ways to lighten your load and share with others.
Create a family ritual to share what you are thankful for each evening around the dinner table. As you feel more and more thankful for your own gifts, think about how your family can help others and share with those who are less fortunate in our community and around the world. Consider feeding the homeless through church, hosting a yard sale and donating the proceeds to your family's favorite charity, organizing a school supply drive for a needy school, picking up the trash along your neighborhood creek bed or mowing the lawn for a sick neighbor.
Caring Books for Kids
"Beatrice's Goat" by Page McBrier (Aladdin, 2004, $7.99)
"One Hen: How One Small Loan Made a Big Difference" by Katie Smith Milway (Kids Can Press, 2008, $18.95)
"If the World Were a Village: A Book About the World's People" by David J. Smith (Kids Can Press, 2011, $18.95)
"A Life Like Mine: How Children Live Around the World" (DK Children, 2005, $12.99).
Caring Books for Grownups
"Raising Kids Who Will Make a Difference: Helping Your Family Live With Integrity, Value Simplicity, and Care for Others" by Susan V. Vogt (Loyola Press, 2002, $13.95)
"The World Needs Your Kid: Raising Kids Who Care and Contribute" by Craig Kielburger, Marc Kielburger, and Shelley Page, Greystone Books, 2010, $19.95
"Material World: A Global Family Portrait" by Peter Menzel (Sierra Club Books, 1995, $25)
"Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace ... One School at a Time" by Greg Mortenson (Perfection Learning, 2007, $25.25)
More Ways to Cultivate Caring and Community
• Learn about different cultures
• Cook healthy foods together as a family
• Take long walks at your favorite park
• Get to know your neighbors
• Shop at local businesses
• Lend a helping hand
• Start a community vegetable garden
• Join a local library story time
• Practice random acts of kindness
• Start having a technology-free day at home