When people learn the premise of my blog, 97% of the time I hear this question:
“Do you volunteer with your kids?”
Helping others not only benefits those in need, but rewards our family as well. In striving to embody the nature of a servant, my kids continue to develop a better sense of empathy.
Here are 10 family activities to help nourish compassion in our children:
1. Make Meals: When a family welcomes a new baby, or a friend is hospitalized, or someone special just needs cheering up, make a meal and help alleviate the “what’s for dinner?” stress. Kids can easily help shop for salad fixings, put together a casserole dish, and bake brownies for dessert. Ask them to create cards including their best wishes.
2. Sponsor a Child: Non-profits abound seeking financial support for children around the world. Our family sponsors two youth, one from Compassion International and one from World Vision. For less than the cost of a restaurant meal, we ensure a boy in Columbia and a girl in El Salvador are fed, clothed, and educated. Quarterly, we receive letters from our sponsored children and our daughters send a response. When we share the blessings we are given, we learn others have a chance for a better life.
3. Serve at a Clothes Closet: Donating garments no longer worn to children in need is generous, for sure. Sorting donations and choosing outfits for the recipients make the generosity a bit more personal. At our local children’s items donation center, my daughters “shop” for an individual and pick out just the right jacket, or toy, or pajamas to create a care package. Though the girls will never meet the children they choose for, to this day they remember each bag they’ve packed. I constantly hear, “I wonder if she liked the Minnie Mouse t-shirt.” or “I hope he liked the teddy bear I picked.”
4. Food Banks: Volunteering at food banks provide an opportunity for our daughters to see what is donated so others may put food on the table. Whether they are sorting carrots and green beans into baggies or delivering a week’s worth of groceries to those needing a helping hand, it causes pause the next time they complain about eating meatloaf. (Ok, maybe I have to remind them to take this “pause”, but the thought gets into their heads one way or another.)
5. Visit Retirement Homes: Often when my kids were in Scouts they would find a time at Christmas to carol at senior centers or retirement homes. Our culture severely lacks the respect for our elders most other worldly cultures revere. Make arrangements to deliver home-made cookies to a retirement home or have your children color placements for your local Loaves and Fishes center. The same kid driving you crazy one afternoon may be the joy and delight to grandparents missing the grandchildren in their lives .
6. Visit National Parks: While caring about others leads to mercy, showing respect for our environment also promotes a compassionate heart. “Take only pictures, leave only footprints” became our girls’ mantra after a year of visiting our country’s protected lands. When we care for our earth, we grow aware of how little acts make a difference in preserving the flora, fauna, and creatures around us.
7. Help level the playing field: Life isn’t fair. We get it. But when my kids need more bookshelves to house their tomes while most kids living in poverty don’t even have a book to call their own, there is a problem. When my kids get a safe place to sleep at night after being tucked in, water given, and kissed 100 times while at the same time children somewhere are taken by social workers from abusive parents, there is a problem.
Instead of purchasing another piece of furniture, I have the kids purge through their personal libraries. Chosen titles are donated to a local non-profit whose volunteers erase marks, repair tears, and pass them on to students attending Head-Start and Title-1 schools.
The next time you run errands, give the kids $10 and have them shop for coloring books, markers, toothbrushes, hair-ties, candy, or anything else which may give foster children comfort after leaving their homes. When abused kids are taken to social services, they often aren’t given a lot of time to pack their things. Welcome Boxes like these have necessary items as well as brief distractions to hopefully make their first night away a tad more bearable.
8. Raise Money for a Cause: Writing a check can be mindless for adults. Asking others for funds to help an effort impacts kids. If you live in a populated area, you will for sure have access to a cause needing fundraising. What is personal for your family? Is it a bike ride collecting money for diabetes research? Maybe a Big Climb earning funds for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society? It could be handing out fliers asking grocery shoppers to donate meals to the homebound elderly. Choose a non-profit your kids will connect with. Have them be a part of something big.
9. Make Sandwiches: Choose a day. Make sandwiches in the morning. Pack a Ziploc with the sandwiches, a water bottle, a protein bar and (if it’s safe), take the lunches where the homeless hang out in your area. Here in Portland, our downtown street population is pretty mellow. My kids show no apprehension approaching people to ask if they’d like a free lunch. If this is too far out of your comfort zone, make the lunches anyway. Deliver them to a shelter serving your homeless neighbors. Each time we deliver food to those on the street, my children become vocal about their blessings. It’s a good reminder for all of us to not take what we have for granted.
10. Apologize and Forgive: I’m not sure how it started, but when our daughters were toddlers and we encouraged them to say, “I’m sorry,” we always asked the offended party if the apologizer was forgiven. Now, at 13 and 10, the girls are distraught if they don’t hear “I forgive you,” after showing remorse. Don’t get me wrong – they are sisters. They argue as most siblings do. But they are never malicious and would never call each other names or put the other down. Asking for forgiveness may be the most humbling act to encourage compassion within the family.
What did I miss? How do you encourage compassion with your kids? Comment below so we can all gain ideas beneficial in raising the next generation with tenderness and mercy.