Being a parent is one of the best roles anyone can ever hold, but it doesn’t come without its share of worries and stressors. Parents raising young kids today have so much to contend with – from how to deal with the advancement of technology, processed food considerations, political and cultural divides, widespread violence, and rampant natural disasters. With all there is to take in, the job of a parent often feels very heavy and overwhelming. Societal change often feels impossible. And for parents, it can feel as though you don’t know what to tackle first and how to raise your child to be kind, compassionate, and confident in a society and culture this messy.
But as parents (and citizens), we have a duty towards our babies, and that doesn’t change, regardless of the state of the world around us. When our surroundings feel close to hopeless, making positive in our own little worlds is the best way to cope – not only do small changes make a big difference, but action always creates new opportunities for joy and growth. And, there’s no better and more impactful way to create change than being mindful of how we raise our kids – they take their cues from us, and our impact will then create positive change in future generations.
By parenting consciously, we give our babies a chance at something better. Here are five ways to do just that.
Creating a routine of generosity and community involvement is one of the most important things we can do for our kids.
I’ll be the first to admit that my kids have everything they need and a ton of stuff they don’t – they’re constantly given everything they ask for from well-meaning family and friends, and, well, us. Trying to balance the desire to give our kids the best that we can while still instilling appreciation and gratefulness in them is a difficult process, but it’s certainly one worth tackling.
Creating a habit of donation in your family, along with kid-friendly explanations of where it’s going, helps little ones begin to see themselves as contributors to their societies – they get a sense of what generosity feels like and why it’s important to help others. And, it’s important at every age.
Next time you’re at the grocery store, say “yes” to the $2 add-on donation, even if it’s just for the sole reason of explaining why to your kids. Clean out your toy bins and offer toys to friends, neighbors, and local women’s shelters. Help your kids start a summer lemonade stand and donate the proceeds to a worthy cause in your neighborhood. Or, offer cold water on hot days to passers-by on your block for absolutely no reason at all. And always, always talk your children through the process. Help them understand the why behind your actions.
Talk to your kids about things that are important to them and find causes to support that they can relate to. Maybe your wildlife-loving kids want to pitch in to clean your town’s parks, or perhaps your puppy-obsessed child can collect blankets from neighbors for the local animal shelter. My baseball-fanatic 5-year-old gathered baseball gear instead of birthday presents this year so that kids in surrounding underserved communities could experience the sport he loves. It was relatable for him and, so, he could feel proud of what he accomplished.
Kids have naturally genuine and giving hearts, and it’s on us to inspire those intuitive feelings of helping others.
Encouraging empathy when your kids are young instills the foundation for children who grow up to be kind and considerate and in tune with the needs of others. Empathy is an inherent trait, but it’s one that needs to be developed continuously as babies become adults. In fact, a person’s ability to empathize is connected directly to their own emotional intelligence – their ability to recognize emotion within themselves, to know what those emotions are, and to use emotions appropriately to navigate society all play a large part in how empathetic a person can be.
So, the earlier you start teaching your children about their own emotions, the better. Help them identify their emotions as they experience them, encourage them to feel all of it, and show them how to take a breath and move forward. So many times we unintentionally stifle what our kids are feeling – at the brink of frustration a “PLEASE stop crying” is sure to slip out. But, taking the time to work through a child’s emotions with them (as much as you can) and arming them with the ability to cope is one of the biggest gifts you can ever give them.
Begin to teach your children the concept of self-validation — how to be aware of themselves and their traits, to be aware of what they feel, think, and know, and to trust themselves through all of this. Raising children who are strong enough to stand up for themselves and others is the ultimate parenting goal and it is not an easy one.
It’s instinctual, especially for kids, to want to fit in and go with the crowd. Taking a stance that goes against that of their peers is one of the hardest choices a child will make in their young lives. And, it takes constant conscious parenting to be able to give them that ability.
Creating and experiencing art can be a huge contributing factor in building a wide and open worldview. Ensuring your little one has an outlook that encourages consideration for all people, places, things, and animals can take a bit of work – particularly if your immediate surrounding area isn’t as diverse as you might like.
Books, visual art (movies, photography, and fine art), music allow us a space to take in things we may not otherwise come across. It lets us see ourselves and others at the same time. When we find personal meaning in art, we can relate to the piece and begin to understand how others live and how they experience the world. So, next time your child wants to watch Moana (for the 1000th time), use the movie as a starting point to learn more about the Samoan community and lifestyle. Create bridges towards learning and openness for your kids in ways that they can’t yet create for themselves.
Starting conversations around topics like race, culture, and lifestyle can feel uncomfortable for us as adults. When we were raised, it wasn’t the norm to be open about these things, and as parents, being really open and matter-of-fact can seem truly awkward. But, kids have us beat in this regard. We try to tell them not to see things like color and culture as a difference, but they know better. They see differences, they point them out, AND they still believe everyone is inherently equal.
So, answer their questions and encourage their curiosity about others. Use art as a stepping stone and take a step outside of your comfort zone. Create those meaningful conversations with your kids about the people around you, how they live, and what they might experience. We are all different, and that’s more than okay. That’s what makes our world beautiful.
Our children look up to us, and what they shouldn’t see is an overly idealized vision of perfection. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone changes their minds. No one is born knowing all the things. Sharing openly with your children about your own mistakes, worries, and feelings will help them gain a realistic perspective on human behavior and functioning.
But, that also means we need to hold ourselves to expectations similar to the ones we place on them. We encourage them to try new foods, so try them together. We push them to apologize after an outburst, so we should do the same. We want them to be kind and helpful to their siblings, but sarcasm often runs high in the banter between couples.
Recognize your mistakes and talk to your children about how you have or are working through them. Make it clear to them that personal growth is constant — that it’s important to never stop learning or evolving.
Talk about what it means to be a citizen — how we’re all meant to be productive, responsible, caring, and contributing members of society. Hold yourself to that standard, and let your kids see you do it.
All this talk would mean nothing without some action. We can talk our kids’ ears off but it’s what we do that they truly notice.
There are limitless ways to volunteer your time or talents in your own neighborhood. Find opportunities that are important for your kids and your family, and make volunteering a habit. Whether it’s organizing drives and donations, canvassing for candidates, making/delivering meals, or training therapy dogs, there are impactful ways to make a difference in your own community.
Make art with your kids, dance with them, visit your local museums and farms and nature preserves, and vote in your local elections. Be gracious to your neighbors, say hi to strangers, stop to pet puppies on the street, and be kind and patient with servers and customer service people. Be the person you want your kids to grow up to be.
Then, take a step back, listen to your kids – their thoughts, their hopes, and their conversations. I’ll bet your faith in humanity and the future of our world starts to turn upwards almost immediately.