Kids serving each other and their neighbors is an image that most parents would like to see. But perhaps that big picture starts with smaller tasks at home or school. Here are ideas from parents like you for encouraging kids in the area of empathy toward others:
Teach them to serve humbly
Our next-door neighbor Debbie asked, "Which of you has been bringing in our trash can?"
"Not me," I said.
I saw her husband, Frank, smile at our daughter. "You've been doing it, haven't you?"
Katelyn nodded sheepishly. I knew she retrieved our can from the curb when she got off the school bus but never imagined she'd done the same for our neighbors.
Later, tucking her in bed, I said, "That's really sweet that you're bringing the Jeldys' can from the curb."
"I remembered you doing it for that single mom when we were walking the dog," she said. "Plus, I've heard all the stories of how you and Dad started doing secret service things when you were in college."
I left her darkened room with a warm glow, determined to continue modeling secret acts of kindness.
— by Cyndi Lamb Curry
Encourage your child in selfless projects
When my 9-year-old son Andrew came home from school excited about the Thanksgiving food drive, I suggested, "Why don't you make a flyer asking the neighbors to help? You can tell them when you'll be by to collect, and maybe they can help you give to more people."
Andrew went from house to house, explaining the project and leaving a flyer as a reminder. Four days later, he set out with his red wagon to collect and came back loaded with food. From this, he learned how to let others in on serving and how to multiply his efforts.
— by Laura Groves
Make it a family thing
During the holidays, my husband and I wanted our kids to know that Christmas was about giving. We purchased chips and salsa, packaged them in decorative bags and added cards that read, "This is a gift for your family to enjoy, from another family who loves you very much." Then, we chose four families who we thought could use a little demonstration of God's love. Our family then gave them the gifts anonymously.
— by Marcy Lytle
A Blanket of Compassion
Our middle son, Adam, loved his blanket. If Adam was tired, Blue Blankey became his pillow. If frightened, he draped it over his head; occasionally, his light-blue buddy became a cocoon of safety.
When Adam was 4, our church sponsored a missions trip to Bosnia to provide blankets for a hospital and an orphanage. Adam was immediately convinced of the importance of this ministry because he could relate to it. "Mom, everyone needs a blanket."
We visited every thrift store I knew across three cities to buy gently used blankets. Later, Adam helped pour liquid detergent and fabric softener into our washing machine. He also helped load the dryer, fold blankets and deliver them to church. My son, wearing his own blanket like a scarf, smiled all the way home.
In Romans 12:13, Paul encourages us to "practice hospitality." Here are two families who've taught their children to share belongings with overnight guests.
1. Luisette's 4-year-old daughter, Jo-Hanna, gladly offers her room to guests but struggles to be courteous. So Luisette started "The Grace and Kindness Rule for Guests." She's instructed her daughter to give guests first choice. Jo-Hanna's countenance sometimes falls when someone chooses differently than her preference, but Luisette has heard her daughter say, "OK, grace and kindness. We will watch your movie because you are my guest, and I want you to come back and play with me."
2. Before houseguests arrived, Jackie's family would create little surprises for their visitors. In doing so, a sense of excitement grew in their home. Their family has:
Crafted welcome notes (with a mint attached) and placed them on the beds her children were offering to company.
Selected a favorite toy or book they wanted to share. Special toys that might get broken were temporarily stored in a safe place.
For Jackie's kids, the highlight was sleeping on the floor — "family camping," as it was called — which included spontaneous pillow fights, of course. And often her kids were caught saying, "Why can't our company stay longer?"
—compiled by Andrea Gutierrez