A silver lining to the current pandemic is that it offers us an opportunity to teach children the importance of helping and caring for others. Right now, almost everyone could use as much support as possible, and kids are in a perfect position to spread some of that kindness. Fortunately, there are many ways to help others while still following all of the CDC’s guidelines around safe social distancing.
Why is it great to encourage children to help?
Not only does helping others make everyone, including children, feel good. There’s real evidence that it’s great for mental health, too, allowing you to cope with feelings of loneliness or sadness, something that more and more children are doing. Face as school closures, and social isolation persists. There’s also plenty of evidence that generosity and happiness are linked, so if your child tends to be moody or struggles emotionally during the pandemic, it can help combat negative feelings. It can also help the donor control their emotions in general, which can help them avoid depression and improve their overall well-being.
If you think your kids are too young to be pushed to help others, remember that research shows that babies as young as six months can show signs of empathy. A study from the University of Washington published in Scientific Reports earlier this year found that babies can be naturally prone to altruism, as evidenced by a willingness to give up a snack for someone else, even if they are hungry. In a press release, the study co-authors shared that “we think certain family and social experiences make a difference” in encouraging this kind of kindness. “If we can discover how to promote altruism in our children, it could move us towards a more caring society.”
Where can families start?
Experts say the easiest place to start is with yourself. In other words, try to be a role model. “Modelling, also called observational learning, is one of the most underrated and misused tools by parents,” Alan Kazdin, a psychology and child psychiatry professor at Yale University, recently told CNN.
Point out nice things you do for others, such as calling to check in with a grandparent or neighbour, as well as those times when you see or hear someone nice or generous to others, such as while running errands. In fact, social distancing itself is a charitable act, as many of us give up things we may really want for the greater good of society. Over time, children receive the message that helping and supporting others, even if it is just a simple act, can really make a difference in someone’s life.
The best part is that you don’t have to do anything special to teach your kids to be kind and generous; you just need to be kind and helpful. Something as simple as treating others at home with kindness and patience, let alone how we treat people who are not in our immediate family, can profoundly affect the role children will feel comfortable with in the future.
Things Kids Can Do
Send a positive message.
If your kids love colouring and card making, have them write thank-you notes and draw pictures for local health workers. Many families also share messages of hope closer to home, in the form of rainbow drawings displayed in windows or drawn in chalk outside, often with the sweet reminder that “Everything will be fine.” You might also want to consider posting tributes to delivery guys, postal workers, and others who are at risk of being exposed to the virus on the street or at your door to ensure the rest of us get the goods and mail we need.
Let their talents shine.
If your child has a special talent, think about how they can put it to good use now. A Facebook mom whose daughter has amazing sewing skills encouraged her to make masks for local medical workers. Another father-daughter duo with great voices went viral with their rendition of a song intended to bring peace and tranquilly to anyone stuck at home, sick or simply concerned about the current state of affairs. An older child who excels in a particular subject may offer to tutor younger homeschooled children. Whatever your child’s special gift is, now is a good time for them to find ways they can use it to help others.
Start a kindness pot.
Sit down with your child and brainstorm ideas for small, random acts of kindness they could perform. Write each idea on a piece of paper and put them all in a jar or bowl, then challenge them to pick at least one every week and do as it says on the slip. The Mental Health Foundation, the UK’s largest charity for tackling and preventing mental health problems, has some great ideas for acts of kindness that we can still participate in during the coronavirus pandemic to get you started:
- Tell a family member how much you love and appreciate them.
- Help with household chores at home.
- Arrange to watch a movie at the same time as a friend and video call
- Tell someone you know why you are grateful to them.
- Send a motivational text message to a friend who is having a hard time.
- Send someone you know a joke to cheer them up.
- Send someone you know a picture of a cute animal.
- Contact someone you haven’t seen in a while and arrange a phone catch-up.
For those families who can spare a few canned goods and other non-perishable items, consider getting your kids to collect some and drop them off together at your local food bank–make sure you follow the safe return procedures of each location, so be sure to keep at least six feet away from others, of course. With unemployment peaking, homeless shelters and soup kitchens expect an increase in community needs.
You can also donate your time. Beck Wass, a woman in Cornwall, UK, has created a printable postcard to make it easier to offer help to those near you who may be struggling to get out of the house or connect with others. You can fill them out and have your child help deliver them to the neighbour’s mailbox the next time you go for a walk.
Help start a local movement.
Many charities can inspire local action. For example, Feed the Fight started in Washington, DC, to support local businesses and provide meals to essential health professionals and first responders. Feed the Fight accepts monetary donations from the community, which are used to place large orders at local restaurants, which are in turn delivered to the workers. They, like many charities, provide instructions for launching a similar effort in your own community. While a movie like this requires a parent, older children could help by completing tasks such as whipping up support on social media, calling local restaurants to determine their capacity to fill orders,
Keep them connected.
Calling grandparents or other loved ones is another way to support others during this time of social isolation, and there are plenty of ways to keep ongoing virtual connections fun for everyone. Even checking in with your neighbours, know with a phone call or a quick note in the mailbox, will help teach children lessons about helping others that will last long after this pandemic is over.
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