Have you ever noticed someone in need of minor help? Maybe a young dad with his arms full has dropped his groceries, or an elderly person has her walker stuck in a doorway. How many people pass by before someone finally stops to help? Did you stop?
As parents, we want to cultivate in our children the kind of character that compels them to stop and help a stranger. But this type of spontaneous helping is not an innate behavior. It has to be taught – or at least modeled.
Teaching your child to recognize and be responsive to people in need of help begins with first teaching them how to be aware of and interact with their surroundings.
When you are out with your little ones, be on the lookout for opportunities where you may be able to lend a hand. Take the time to occasionally glance up at your surroundings; make a mental note of who is around you and what is going on. Engage your children with commentary about what you see, and ask them what they see.
As well as opening them up to discovering opportunities where they can help others, teaching your children situational awareness also strengthens their ability to recognize and potentially avoid dangerous situations. With eyes up they can alert you to a concerning situation way ahead of any confrontation.
It is important to remind children that they should not approach strangers, even to help, without a parent or caregiver present. Teach them to ask you, “Can we help that person?” You can then approach as a team. If you are the one to notice a person in need of assistance, you can tell you child, “It looks like that person might need some help. Let’s see what we can do.”
The more your children see you recognize opportunities to help and then actually take the time to offer assistance, the more likely they are to make that behavior part of their “It’s just what you do” repertoire. Remember, what they see you do, they will do. Every action, every word is filed away in our children’s memory banks, to be conveniently and quickly retrieved when they encounter a situation in which they are unsure how to behave. Their little minds race for some rules of engagement; what they will likely come up with is how you behaved in a similar situation.
Only by modeling the kinds of behavior we want to see in our children can we truly guide them in embracing kindness. They may not always listen to us, but they are ALWAYS watching.
Back it up with a book! The Jelly Donut Difference: Sharing Kindness with the World