Teach your Children to Serve and Spread Some Love this Valentine’s Day
It’s no secret that we live in a world where we are encouraged to think of ourselves as often as possible. There are entire books devoted to the subject, appropriately titled things like The Me Generation and The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement. My kids are particularly fond of The Minosaur, a children’s book that paints a fairly accurate picture of the “mine, mine, mine” attitude of today’s children.
There’s article after article that claim putting your own happiness first is the only way to live and that being selfish isn’t rude, but that it’s necessary.
In fact, I am on a mission to curb that type of attitude in my own children. I want to teach them that doing kind things for other people without being asked first, leads to happiness. Ultimately, that life isn’t about just them and that people need our help. It’s this type of thinking that I believe will fill our world with more love and less of that snarky hate we’ve been seeing in abundance lately.
So, what’s the best way we can implement a service-oriented attitude in our children? Here are four ideas:
1. Make service part of your every day conversations. Children don’t automatically notice the service we do for others, or why we are doing it. Sometimes we need to point out the things that aren’t as obvious to them. That family that’s under the weather that you’re taking dinner to is worth chatting casually about with your kids. Why are you doing it? How is it helping that family? They should know.
That nice neighbor who shoveled your driveway? That kind man who made your cranky kids laugh in the grocery store line? Make sure you thank those giving service to you and talk about it later with your kids.
The other day at the Post Office, I had my youngest two kids with me. As I struggled to balance my youngest in one arm and my packages in another, a kind woman, who had been several yards ahead of us, waited patiently for us at the door and held it open for us. I thanked her profusely and turned to my four-year-old daughter and casually said, “Did you see the way that lady opened the door for us? That was so nice of her!” My daughter enthusiastically agreed and away we went to mail our packages.
As we were leaving, I noticed my little girl waiting for an older gentleman who was a few strides behind us. He had nothing in his arms and was perfectly capable of opening the door himself, yet she was so excited to push the button to open the door for him. The man smiled down at her and said, “Thank you! What a sweet girl you are!” She beamed.
Children won’t know the benefits of service if we don’t talk about it and by talking about service, we encourage it.
2. Don’t just talk, do. You know what they say about good intentions… talking about it is pointless, it’s the doing that matters.
If your children grow up watching their parents constantly serve, they’ll be more prone to be service-oriented themselves. It will become second nature to them. It’s a good lesson I have to remind myself of constantly. Thinking about taking a neighbor cookies does no good if you don’t actually do it.
I remember my own parents teaching by example. When I was in the 5th grade, one of the things I saw my mom do for an immigrant family in need still makes me emotional to this day. I was 10 and I had been touched so deeply that I will never forget it. Children are sponges. If they see something good happening, they’ll remember it. The lesson I learned from my mom on serving those in need was invaluable.
3. Make it a team effort. Involve your kids in your effort too.
As a parent of small children, it’s easy to use them as an excuse for not serving. After all, small children make serving impossible, right? Maybe we should just forget about it until they’re older and it gets easier.
Stop right there. Turn that thinking around. What will happen if your kids grow up without taking part in service simply because their ages made it more difficult? Children of all ages need to be exposed to service, big and small.
Sure, maybe participating in a Habitat for Humanity project isn’t realistic with a Baby Bjorn strapped to your chest, but that doesn’t mean taking soup to a sick neighbor is impossible. Let your kids stir the soup or add some ingredients. And let them go up to the front door and help you drop it off. Kids love to pitch in and help with those types of things. See our list below for small acts of service children definitely can be involved in.
4. Service starts at home.
Service doesn’t have to be huge to make a difference. In fact, why not start in your own home? Teach your children to serve each other. I’ve often heard that the best way to learn to love someone is to serve them.
When my kids act out against each other, their usual punishment is to not only apologize, but also to do something nice for that sibling as a way to show they’re truly sorry. A family motto of our’s is “kindness begins with me” but it also begins at home by doing little acts of kindness for our family members.
Need ideas to get you started?
Valentine’s Day Service Ideas. Here are some of our favorites that can easily involve your children:
- Make dinner for a family in need. Assign each child to a different task that suits their age/skill level. Don’t forget the heart cookies!
- Make a card for each family member with a list of 10 things they love the most about them. Place it somewhere you know they’ll look.
- “Heart attack” a home or car of someone who means a lot to you or has helped you in some way.
- Pay for the person behind you in the drive-thru line of a fast food restaurant. It’s guaranteed to make their day!
- Leave a homemade Valentine in your mailbox for your mailman. They deserve some love, too, for delivering your mail all year!
Valentine’s Day is supposed to be all about love. So let’s kick that selfishness to the curb and spread a little.
Looking for even more ideas? I love this book, The Giving Book: Open the Door to a Lifetime of Giving. Another great one is 52 Weeks of Fun Family Service, it has helpful ideas for getting your kids to love service.
I also love the idea behind the newly launched site My Good and their mantra of imagining how much better the world would be if everyone did a little good. Check it out for some fabulous ideas of how you can give back in a meaningful way!
Former White House and Capitol Hill staffer, wife, and mom.