I recently read an article about an 11-year old boy who invented a device intended to prevent children from being locked inside a hot car. In August, the elementary-aged son of a high school friend set up his annual lemonade stand. One year it was in aid of the Alzheimer's Foundation in honor of his grandmother. This year his donations went to the Services for the Underserved in honor of an uncle. My time in the classroom was spent as a Social Studies teacher. Social activism and citizenship were always at the core of the lessons I taught.
In recent times, we have unfortunately experienced great tragedies in September: earthquakes, hurricanes and a major terrorist attack. This year is no exception with multiple mass shootings here in the United States and the daunting devastation to several islands in the Bahamas by Hurricane Dorian. These tragic events always present a very real dilemma for parents and teachers.
How do we teach children empathy and compassion without introducing them to fear and despair?
We certainly want children of all ages to be aware of their surroundings and have the ability to articulate current events, but we also want to shield them from information that may cause undue trauma. So how do we strike a viable balance? The first step is to determine what is age appropriate and what is appropriate for each individual child. No one knows your child more than you do so you know the times and seasons in which they will be ready to receive certain information. Additionally, you are the captain of the ship. As a parent, you decide what your children should be exposed to and when. So that is the foundation for this type of work and below is what I believe every family can instill in their children at any age. These things will add to the foundation for developing empathetic citizens who advocate for social justice and are active participants in their world.
Teach children at any age to:
Identify basic human needs: food, water, air, shelter, clothing, warmth, safety.
Distinguish between need and want.
Recognize need and identify ways they can help to alleviate that need.
Treat others with respect and kindness starting at home.
Resolve conflicts peacefully.
Make a difference in their corner of the world!
Remember that the greatest teacher is example. Dorothy Law Nolte reminded us in her poem that children live what they learn, and they learn what they live! Therefore, it is very important that adults intentionally live the lessons they want children to learn. Let your children see you being compassionate, empathetic and kind. Mahatma Ghan
di implored us to be the change we wish to see in the world. The change begins with small acts and kind words. Donate money and time. Connect with a local organization that gives back or create your own! Social activism begins with you!