by Kristin Kuiper, LMSW, MSW
Many parents that I see complain that their children are selfish. Always texting. Never wanting to eat supper with the family. Yelling “me first” way too often. Spending excessive amounts of time in the bathroom. Wanting more clothes or more drive time. The truth is, developmentally, children are very egocentric. They think about themselves a lot, if not most of the time. Really, their worlds revolve around them.
For parents who want to nurture the value of altruism in their children, this reality can be frustrating. We want our children to desire to give to others, we don’t want to have to make them do this, which can take the joy out of giving and just creates one more thing for us to nag them about, right?
There really isn’t any magical way to create or nurture this value, but what we do know is that children learn best through consistency, role modeling, and hands on experiences. In my last blog I talked about keeping our own social networking habits in check as we model to our children what a healthy relationship with technology looks like…and it is the same with service.
A couple years ago, our street held our first block clean up. My middle child was 2 years old at the time. Our task during this cleanup was to travel up and down our street in Eastown and pick up litter along the way. Because we live close to businesses and are in a general walk through area, there is a lot of litter that accumulates. My daughter really got into this task, and ever since has been pretty passionate about picking up “glitter” whenever she sees it. Last week she even got a big thumbs up from a local business owner as she got off her bike, picked up a piece of trash, and found a nearby garbage can. I find this whole experience interesting because I have not talked to her about the importance of picking up litter, we just experienced it together. Because of that experience, and block clean ups since, her little mind has been imprinted with the value of cleaning up what is not supposed to be there (now only if this transferred to her bedroom!).
This is a simple story, but one that I think illustrates the point well and might encourage you as a family to look for ways you can serve together. Maybe, as you look ahead to the summer and recognize more open spaces in your family schedule, you can integrate some regular way of giving or serving along with the vacations, sports events, and barbeques you are looking forward to.