We live in an affluent society where most children have the opportunity to receive a sound education, own ample toys, celebrate birthdays, and even take regular family holidays from a young age. In this consumer-oriented culture, it is easy for children to become apathetic and take the good things in their lives for granted – some may even believe they are entitled to everything they want. As parents, it can be challenging to teach seemingly counter-culture values such as thankfulness, contentment and empathy to our children.
However, it has also become impossible to ignore the injustice, poverty and general turmoil in the world. Thanks to social media, we (and our media-savvy children) are exposed to the experiences of the disadvantaged and needy – sometimes in our own backyard. Rather than ignoring these, parents can encourage their children to take action, and be a voice for those who need it the most.
Here are some simple and easy-to-implement principles to keep in mind:
Start where you are. Often we do not need to look very far to find someone who needs our help. Observe your immediate neighbourhood, and keep a look out for opportunities to help a neighbour or even a specific group in your community. You and your child might want to offer to do the weekly grocery shopping for an elderly neighbor, or even babysit a young child so that the parents can enjoy a much-needed date night. Remember to involve your children, and ask for their suggestions on whom you can help together. With practice, they will learn to be more sensitive to the needs of others, and be proactive in helping when they can.
Use what you have. What passions, talents and resources do your family members have? List these down on a piece of paper together and brainstorm about how you can use them to contribute to your community. An older child with a flair for language and drama may want to host a weekly book reading session at the neighbourhood library. A child who plays an instrument may want to hold a small concert to cheer up the residents in an eldercare facility. There are a multitude of opportunities to reach out and encourage and enrich the lives of others by channeling your children’s talents and interests in this manner.
Do what you can. Often we do not know where to start or what to do, and this contributes to our inertia, hampering us from reaching out to those in need. But keeping an open mind and willing heart to help is perhaps the most crucial part of showing empathy. Have a frank and honest discussion with your children about how much time you can devote to the task they have decided to carry out. Ask yourselves if you can sustain the time commitment long-term and if this is a one-off or regular help that you intend to offer. One parent shared with us that her children were eager to help out at a before and after school care program. However, being in the midst of the exam period themselves, they decided to pen notes of encouragement to the students instead. Once the holidays started, they began weekly visits to the centre and assisted their mom in cooking nutritious meals for the students.
As you step out of your comfort zone to practice and teach empathy and compassion to your children, opportunities will present themselves so you just have to be alert and respond! Ultimately, instilling these values, as well as giving your children the space and time to practice them will certainly place them on the path to a more altruistic and fulfilling life.
© 2015 Focus on the Family Singapore Ltd. All rights reserved.
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