Would you like to prepare the children you love to have a lifelong habit of generosity? How’s it going? Most of us believe in giving our money, time and talent to others but are looking for fresh ways to change that belief into action.
1) Share the joy you derive from giving.
Talk about your giving experiences with them. Celebrate when things go well. Share the lessons you learn when things don’t turn out as you’d hoped. Start young to include them in your charitable efforts (as simple as having them in the car when you drop off donations to a thrift store). Be careful how you talk about their school’s fund-raising appeals. You’re teaching them how to react when a need is presented.
2) Find them a hero or mentor.
In whatever areas interest the child, you will find generous heroes (sports, music, etc). Sarah Trzepacz suggests asking the children’s librarian for titles featuring current and historical heroes “to infuse children with new ideas and renewed energy.” Find a generous hero or mentor among your trusted family friends or neighbors who might introduce new ideas and renewed energy into family projects.
3) High schools often require volunteering in order to graduate.
Sarah Trzepacz observed, “A teen who once enjoyed annual family outings to plant trees in a neighborhood park or sort canned goods at a local food bank may suddenly balk at spending their Saturday afternoon with family members. They may be letting you know they are ready to doing some giving independently from you.” How convenient that many high schools encourage this. Sit down with teens and find out what causes they are passionate about if you can’t already tell by their outside interests or the posters on their bedroom walls. Then if they never invite you to be involved in any way, do whatever you can to say yes and support them, without giving any ideas of your own.
4) Change the way children see generosity.
“Sports Illustrated cited instant replay as one of sports’ ’20 great tipping points’ of the previous 50 years and wrote of instant replay’s impact, ‘The revolutionary premise was that sports could be improved not by changing the games but by changing the way they were packaged.’” (Chris Erskine in the Los Angeles Times, 1-19-15)
Of the options mentioned above, which one stands out to you for its potential to change the way generosity is packaged in your family?
Tweetable: If your goal is to raise generous young adults, a couple of examples here might spark your new idea. Click to Tweet
My new book, Child-centered Spirituality: Helping children develop their own spirituality, is scheduled to be released on November 15th – just in time for the holidays!
Where did Grandma go when she died?
Why doesn’t God stop bad things from happening?
Many parents have experienced a child asking difficult spiritual questions– usually at inopportune moments. While we stumble around trying to think of an answer, we feel inadequate… and sometimes startled by their questions. If you’re like most adults, you try your hardest to avoid thinking much about questions like these. So why on earth is a child asking you about them?
We talk with our children about the importance of school work, about physical health, about how to navigate social difficulties. We even talk with them about sex, drugs, and internet safety… or if we don’t, we know we should.
So why do we find it so difficult to talk with children about God?
Whether you are a parent, grandparent, teacher, foster parent, or other caregiver, this is a book to help you engage with the children in your life about their spiritual needs.
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“Perhaps the most valuable explorations come when children learn that each person is created in the image of God, deserving respect and caring. When children know that they are created in God’s image, their own self-worth is bolstered, and it is safer, and easier, to ask questions about God and the rest of their world,” observed Maxine Handelman. This morning I was reading Handelman’s book, Jewish Every Day, where I found an idea to share.
Making it fun to discover God’s secrets
Have children collect leaves that, at first glance, seem to be exactly alike. As children examine the leaves they will discover that, indeed, no two leaves are identical. Then show children a sheet of postage stamps or a stack of paper plates. The children will discover that these person-made things are all identical.
They have just discovered one of God’s secrets. When people make things using machines, the objects all come out the same. When God makes things in nature, no two things are the same. The question then becomes, “Why did God do that?”
Making it comfortable to talk about God
The easiest–and also the hardest–way to help children explore their questions about God is to make “God-talk” a regular, normal part of our conversation. When [family members] refer to God in a comfortable, regular manner, then children will know it is safe for them to talk about God and safe for them to explore their own understandings of God.
“God may come into the home whether or not a family consciously invites God in,” Marvel Ginsberg notes. “It’s often the children who bring God in through their discoveries and with their questions. If we do not support exploration and wonder with warmth and respect, then eventually God is likely to be conspicuously absent.”
How does your family make God-talk a regular part of daily life?
Tweetable: It’s often the children who bring God into the home through their questions. Make it normal to do so. Click to Tweet
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken.” –C.S. Lewis
Authors Charles R. Ridley and Robert E. Logan inspired me to reflect on the push-pull of desiring to cultivate compassion in children while simultaneously shielding them from emotional pain. If we want to invest in the development of a child’s compassionate heart, there are costs involved. We decide for ourselves whether the cost is worth it.
Cost—A child’s awareness of emotional pain
When a family is touched by disappointment or loss, isn’t our natural inclination to run, to find a way to protect ourselves and our children? “To care—at a deep and authentic level of our spirits—opens us up to pain,” says Ridley. Certainly we monitor how many details the child knows. We also stay emotionally connected with them through their discomfort as they find composure in the knowledge that they need not fear emotional pain.
Cost—A child’s feelings of inadequacy
When children recognize that hardships have entered life—their life or someone else’s—they learn that they are not able to fix it or change it. We’re tempted to step in and pump them up with positive affirmations because we want them be confident and happy. Yet to develop a compassionate heart we must leave children with their feelings of being powerless. We come alongside them to help them form their own healthy way of handling these feelings.
Cost—An adult’s mandate to show compassion in action
We are busy people. “Still, we realize that kids learn from what we do more than from what we say. So we stop what we’re doing and tend to a person who needs help especially when it is not convenient to do so,” noted Signe Whitson. “We hold ourselves back before speaking in a frustrating interpersonal interaction. This is costly when we are tired and swamped by many responsibilities.”
Tweetable: If we want to invest in the development of a child’s compassionate heart, there are costs. See more here. Click to Tweet
An acquaintance of mine, a preschool teacher, describes a time when she saw God’s heart reflected in a child’s actions.
“One of the children in my class became upset and started to cry. Her classmate, Miguel, immediately stopped what he was doing, grabbed a tissue and literally wiped her eyes. He then sat next to her and comforted her. Miguel is filled with a deep sense of compassion and justice. I praised Miguel for that compassion and for caring for his friend.”
1) See experiences through the child’s eyes.
Miguel’s empathy reflected God’s heart toward his friend. He had understanding and insight into his friend’s thoughts and feelings. He took action to comfort her.
Empathy is not an easy skill to use, especially for those who were raised to minimize feelings, or skip over feelings and go right to changing or fixing them. When we practice empathy we communicate to children that we care.
2) Respond with empathy to reflect God’s heart of love toward children:
- That hurts, doesn’t it?
- I’m so sorry.
- Good for you! You did it!
- I remember feeling that way when I was a child–it’s exciting, isn’t it?
- It’s scary to feel all alone.
3) Support the child’s bond with God and God’s bond with the child.
Obviously bonding requires presence. Mere information about someone does not make a strong bond. We reflect God’s heart toward children when we support God’s bond with the child. This is difficult because we’re dealing with a Higher Power who is invisible. But when you are with the child, it is also easy to find God’s presence.
- Look for kind acts and loving gestures wherever you go. Why? Because that’s where God is making an appearance. Develop a family habit to point out the good, not the stupid or rude.
- Notice and verbalize signs of God’s love: in nature, in movies, music, children’s literature, in happy surprises.
- Focus on God’s nurturing, comforting, gentle presence in difficult times and give God the benefit of the doubt.
Tweetable: Understand & support a child’s bond with God even when you don’t have one, or don’t have the same kind. Click to Tweet
Our foster daughter Angie had the most sympathy of any person I’ve ever known. At age 14, her spontaneous, heartfelt expressions of sadness for someone else’s misfortune far surpassed my own.
Angie and I had occasion to drive through some hardscrabble neighborhoods in Los Angeles County. From time to time we would see a man lying on the sidewalk and she would say out loud with great feeling, “Oh! Poor thing!”
Angie’s sympathy moved her to pray for hurting people.
Sometimes I’d ask her, “What is your prayer for this person?” Other times, Angie would say, “We should pray for that man,” and say a short prayer out loud (integrated right into our conversation) about her hope that he finds food today or a better place to sleep.
Prayer fosters a sense of security.
In his book Love in a Fearful Land, Henri Nouwen writes, “Prayer is the way to both the heart of God and the heart of the world.” Prayer is a word that describes a relationship.
Praise children for being willing to pray. They will sometimes pray things that you know are unrealistic or inappropriate. It is up to us to teach them a different way so that they gain trust in God’s goodness and sidestep the disillusionment (which sometimes lasts a lifetime) that God didn’t answer the prayer — God doesn’t care — God doesn’t even exist.
Prayer helps a child be calmer.
Prayer can be one action children take when they feel sympathy for strangers. Perhaps they see something like a car accident firsthand or hear upsetting national or world news. When you allow them to make a loving and prayerful response, you are helping the child be calmer. And reflect back to the child his or her admirable intention that some good comes to the stranger(s).
Tweetable: Allowing kids to make a prayerful response to upsetting events helps them be calmer. Click to Tweet