By Beth Pinyerd
As families and schools embark on the month of November, we stress gratitude and the importance of caring for others. In our lives, we look back on certain altars in our lives and learn from them.
One day, my 10-month-old son Gus and I were looking outside our kitchen window at a man who was bagging pecans underneath a tree near our apartment home.
My toddler kept staring and pointing at the man. The man looked like he was struggling and having a hard time. I decided it would be good to fix the man a couple of sandwiches with an apple and water.
My son and I went and gave the man the bagged lunch. Tears came into the man’s eyes as he gobbled down the sandwich quickly. The man was hungry. The reason he was gathering pecans under the tree was to sell them across town from his bicycle.
A big smile came across his face as he looked at Gus. My son smiled back and realized in his young heart that he had met a need. The man shared some pecans with us as he bicycled off to sell his pecans before Thanksgiving.
This early outreach in my son’s life planted a path in his life to be sensitive to the physical and hunger needs of others, as he has joined mission outreaches to feed the homeless in his adolescent and adult life.
How can we teach children to learn and care for others? Here are a few tips that I would like to share with you.
Keep in mind that the first five years are for value and moral development. This continues throughout our lives, but we as parents and teachers can take these early years to teach children morals and values. We have to look at age and child development as we assess what children can actually understand.
In working with infants and toddlers who are 8 to 20 months old, they do realize that they can make another child happy by being gentle and helpful. Praise the child when they do this positive action.
They also understand they can hurt another child by hitting, pushing or grabbing. Immediate correction is needed when this happens by saying “no” or letting them know by verbal or facial expression that we don’t hurt others.
When a child is 2 or 3 years old, they can understand and empathize the feelings, frustrations and hurts of others. When I see a child this age gently outreaching to another by sharing a toy, blanket or hug, it melts this teacher’s heart to witness kindness from one so young.
Late threes and fours definitely understand the importance of being kind and sharing with others.
Children 5 years old and older develop values like honesty, respect and kindness and are able to understand moral judgments.
As parents and teachers, what can we do to teach values? Spend time and simply talk with children about different circumstances and situations they have had with other children. Role play different situations with your child or children.
For example, if a child’s friend bumped into something or fell down and got hurt, discuss with your child or children on how they may think the other child may have felt with these accidents. In addressing your child or children, ask them how they helped their friend. With older children, ask for their ideas on how they could outreach and help.
With the holidays coming up and families and friends making plans to come together, talk to your children beforehand about situations that could arise where they could help. There could be intergenerational situations of outreach between young and older family members.
As parents and teachers, we are modeling morals and values that we want our children to learn. Modeling appropriate ways to help others and to be thoughtful is the best teacher.
Happiness happens when we look for ways to help others. During the month of November, create an outreach project of kindness in your family where you outreach to each other in the family as well as friends. Teaching children to care will be planted in their hearts.