We often ask children the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Our intentions are good; we want to inspire dreams, encourage goal-setting, and cast vision for what their little lives can become. But sometimes we ask this question and inadvertently teach children to believe that until they are “grown ups” they have to wait to do anything significant.
As we seek to instill compassion into our children, the number 1 thing they need to hear from the adults in their lives is that they do not have to wait to make a difference. There is no “magic age” that a child needs to reach before they can impact the world.
C.S. Lewis once said, “Since it is so likely that [children] will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage.” Children perceive that the world is not as it should be; injustices exist, and needs are real. But children can also be equipped with a deep-seated belief system that tells them that heroes are also real, and they can be those heroes.
Last summer my then five-year-old son found me crying on our back porch. He asked what was wrong, and I tried to muster up words to explain the Iraqi and Syrian refugee crisis to him.
I will never forget his teary-eyed response to me: “Mom, I want to help them.”
He knocked on the door of compassion, and I could have chosen to say, “That’s so sweet of you, buddy. But the problem is too big, there’s not a lot we can do.” I saw the desperation in his eyes—the hurt he felt for kids like him who can’t go to school, who have no shoes or warm coats—and instead I invited him into the story.
My son spent weeks making beaded bracelets to sell to raise money for refugee relief efforts. He named the project, “The Green Refuge Project” and raised $150. That’s a drop in a bucket for such an incomprehensible social justice issue, but my little boy did something big before he even stepped foot into a kindergarten classroom.
Something miraculous happens in each of us, regardless of age, when we decide to act. Our hearts seem to somehow grow, our courage and resolve strengthen, and our belief that there are things worth fighting for is renewed. Imagine the possibilities if we invite the current generation of children into the bigger story now while their eyes are still bright-eyed and not yet jaded by the brokenness of the world.
Here are five ways that you can engage your children in acts of compassion:
- Invite your child to join you in sponsoring a World Vision child.
By sponsoring a child with World Vision, you not only make a huge impact in the life of a child in need, but your own child will be opened up to—literally—to a whole new world. Your child can draw pictures, and write letters to your sponsored child. They can also help you pick up little treats to send your sponsored child (stickers, pencils, notebooks, personal photos, etc.).
- Have your child help you pick out food items to donate to a food pantry.
1 out of every 5 children in America does not receive enough food to eat. Your children go to school with other children who may not know where their next meal will come from. Talk to your child about this, and then engage them in being a helper by going to the store to pick up nonperishable items that can be donated to your local food bank, or directly to your school to be distributed to other children in need.
- Get crafty for a cause.
Make bracelets, sell lemonade, hold a bake sale, create greeting cards…whatever creative bug your child has, fan the flame and show them how they can use their interests to raise money for something they care about.
- Invite your child to join you for service projects.
Compassion, like most character traits, is caught rather than taught. Your children are watching your lead, and when you volunteer to serve you show them you mean what you say about the importance of taking action.
You can take this a step further by inviting your children to participate with you in service. You will not only bond closer to your child, but you will provide them with memories, and cultivate their heart for help and service.
- Pray together.
Prayer is critical to instilling compassion in the heart of a child. God is the author of justice and compassion, and it is He who equips us with His heart in order to be His hands in the world. Praying with our children is a powerful way to ask God to use our children to meet needs in the world, as well as a great way to model a life of faith for your children to follow.
As a practical bonus, World Vision has a fabulous new resource called the “Play It Forward Guide” that will help you leverage this summer with your child as an opportunity to change the world. Be sure to check it out, and watch your child flourish as their compassion for others grows.
The hearts of children are large, and full of dreams. Let them dream of who they will one day become, but teach them that they do not have to wait to be heroes in the bigger story. They are little people, but powerful forces in this world.
Run Hard. Love Strong.