In a recent special episode of Sesame Street, Growing Hope Against Hunger, fans of the show met Lily, a new muppet whose family doesn't have enough food. Lily introduced this timely issue in an age-appropriate way, which is something that many Circle of Moms members say they struggle to do. It's not easy to teach a child whose favorite word is "mine!" about poverty, hunger, and the importance of generosity.
Some, like Kristen S., wonder how early to start. Should she begin with more basic lessons about sharing and helping, or go ahead and take her 4-year-old daughter to help out at the local food bank? She wonders what other parents of young children have done "to help their little ones learn about those less fortunate."
In answer to Kristen's question, here are some great ideas from Circle of Moms members on teaching lessons about kindness, compassion, and charity — to a preschool-aged child.
1. Practice sharing
For small children, empathy begins with learning how to share. “My son is 20-month-old and is terrible with sharing,” says Lauren M. Libby H. suggests giving him more chances to practice: “Preschool is kind of young to get the whole sharing and compassion for others concept. But perhaps just have some play dates with friends or family members and teach the kids [not to take] stuff away from other kids and [about] sharing. Then stick with it and be consistent. The repetition will pay off.”
2. Model kindness
Children learn from an early age to model their parent’s behaviors, and moms shape how their children treat others from an early age. “You have to take an active role in teaching children compassion,” says Circle of Moms member Magen H. “Parents should stop their children when they do something hurtful and explain or show them how this hurts others.”
Tonia M. believes that "everything a kid is or is not exposed to defines who they are." As she explains, "All kids have their days. My kids have been little stinkers and had their moments. I strongly believe it is how the parent respond to their negative behavior though. I totally one hundred percent think a child not being empathetic is due to not having to be accountable for hurting someone.”
3. Practice thoughtfulness
Some Circle of Moms members suggest incorporating prayer and thoughtful actions into their young children's routines. "I have been teaching my two- and three-year-old sons to pray for others,” said Anita M. “If we hear about someone's misfortune...we pray and try to do something thoughtful."
4. Donate toys, books, or money
Heather H. has introduced the concept of giving to the poor by enlisting her four young children to pick clothes they have outgrown or don’t need to donate to Goodwill. “My kids are a little too young to go to places to volunteer, but when they are older I will take them to places like nursing homes and food banks,” says. “For now they know we give our used items to Goodwill for other people."
Other moms suggest taking your child with you to donate their outgrown clothes, toys and books to a woman’s shelter, where there is often a great need for these supplies. This helps them understand that other children will benefit and to feel good about their participation. As September S., who has done this, shares, "We have a shelter where I live that provides housing to mothers who are/were drug addicted and or abused [and are] looking to get back onto their feet, and I donated a lot of stuff to that organization. It felt great! :)" (For more ideas on where to donate, see Donate, Sell or Trade? 9 Ways to Discard Outgrowns.)
Another option is to have your kids donate money. Circle of Moms member Karen says, “One of the moms in our church had her children put money in a box for the ‘poor people that didn't have any money’ and at Christmas they gave the money to a charity that helped local people."
5. Join efforts with other families
Another way to jump start your effort is to combine it with activities you do with other families. “I really like the idea of getting together with other families for service projects,” says Toni D. “Several mothers and our kiddos met at the local park and decorated small flower pots,” she says. “Then we all took a few home and planted a flower in them. We went to the nursing home and delivered the gifts to all the residents. It really brightened their day and the kids got the chance to visit with the residents.”
How are you teaching your preschooler to care for others?
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.