Friday, June 13, 2014

How to Teach Kids to Care

I hear parents complain that their kids don’t appreciate what they have. So much is available to our kids today that it’s hard for them to imagine being without. Then when they push their parents for more, it triggers a feeling of resentment for the parents as they think about all they’ve done and provided for their kids so far.

My own kids occasionally threw in the, “All my friends have an (insert anyone of these here: iPhone, TV, Xbox, Six Flags pass, etc.), why can’t I have one?” It’s common for them to think that every other child has what they want, even though it may not be true. Remain calm when they make these claims and stand firm in your position to not cave at their demands.

Instead of reminding your children of all that you’ve bought or done for them, let their cries for more stuff be your reminder to get them involved in something that gives to others. From food banks, to pet adoption groups, to the Salvation Army and churches, all communities have opportunities for individuals, families and even children to volunteer in service to others.

There is no better way to teach your children the act of giving then to do it right alongside them. Avoid dropping your kids off with an organization for them to volunteer, unless it’s an organization that is specific to youth participation. You are the primary and most important teacher for your children so roll your sleeves up and get in there with them to participate. 

I read a news story recently, featuring a 16-year-old boy in Rhode Island who started a project of providing brand new donated shoes to homeless children. In the four years it’s been running, he’s provided 16,000 pairs across 32 states. The article in People magazine included testimony from recipients of this giving organization’s gifts to families.

And where did this admirable young man get the notion to start such a wonderful organization? His parents took him to a homeless shelter when he was five years old. When he realized that his light-up sneakers did not compare to the shoes worn by the homeless children, which were falling apart, that experience remained with him and influenced his actions as he approached the teen years.

As the story supports, telling your children about those who are less fortunate than they are, may not be enough to matter. When I was a child, I remember my elders warning me about all the children that were starving in foreign countries, in hopes of getting me to eat my dinner. Providing an experience for your children in seeing and hearing from those less fortunate can make all the difference.

One final thought on this matter of teaching children and teens to care. Suppose there are some things that you do want to provide for them. Instead of running out and making an instant purchase, consider a dollar-for-dollar matching initiative if they have the means to earn money. Or at the very least, put limitations on when and how long they can use the item. Delayed gratification is something more children need to experience to appreciate what they do and do not have.
Bill Corbett has a degree in clinical psychology and is the author of the award winning book “Love, Limits, & Lessons: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Cooperative Kids,” in English and in Spanish.  He is happily married with three grown children, two grandchildren, and three step children.  You can visit his Web site for further information and parenting advice.

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