Teaching Children Empathy.
Empathy happens. But not always on its own. You’ve got to plant the empathy seedlings first, and then you water them. Then, they grow.
I am always on the lookout for new ideas.
But here’s something that tugs at my heart strings – giving back to the community. Even more importantly, teaching my children how to give back to the community.Empathy happens. But not always on its own. You've got to plant the empathy seedlings first, and then you water them. Then, they grow. Click To Tweet
Teaching children to give back to their community helps to teach them empathy.
In a world where many of us have been blessed, it’s easy to just move forward, not paying mind to those around us who could use some help.
But the field in which I practice allows me a window into the lives of others. I’ve seen, time and time again, just how much people truly need. Or how a stroke of bad luck – like a poor health diagnosis or loss of a job – can suddenly turn things for the worse in someone’s life. Which is why I’ve taught my kids – regardless of their age – to give back to others.
No matter where you live, no matter what it is you do, there is always a place for giving.
Setting Out on a Mission.
With this in mind, I set out in search of the best way in which my boys and I could give back, while learning valuable lessons about the realities of this world.
What was important for me to teach my little ones first and foremost, was that not all giving involves money.
Giving can mean supplies. Giving can mean time. Giving can mean kindness.
We decided together that the boys take part in actively giving back – not just in donating their things, but in donating their time. We came up with several ideas, and put them – and ourselves – into action.
Coming Up With A Name.
First, we needed a name. That’s when H.M.M. was born.
H.M.M. stands for Help Move Mountains, and that was exactly what we set out to do. Not just one mountain, my sons decided, but many of them. Our family, it was decided, would focus efforts on giving back to the many mountains in need. So we planned to take on a different project every few months, learn about its cause, and think of original ways to ‘give’.
Plus, we love the way the name sounded – HMM. Half yogic chant, half quizzical thought. But also all from the heart.
Below, 4 of the projects we took on the first year of existence.
4 Original Project Ideas for Teaching Empathy
Project #1: Black Friday in NYC
For our first mission, my trio of boys and I set out to feed the homeless. Not in a shelter, where the children would not experience giving first-hand, but doing it ourselves, from start to finish.
Cue a fun supermarket trip, filled with pushing and shoving on the boys’ parts. Like the trips we’ve taken together in the past, these group activities were remembered best for the camaraderie they built. The boys all share a goal – helping to move a mountain – and, although typically marked by incessant whining and annoying fights, they’re also remarkably educational. And memorable to boot.
I sponsored the trip and we purchased ingredients: brown paper bags, bread, sliced deli meats, mustard, mayo, peanut butter, jelly, apples, bananas, crackers, and little candy treats, amongst other delectable items.
Next up for the boys was a makeshift assembly line, complete with background music, several freeze challenges and fun chatter as we worked.
We finished this part of the day up with hand-decorated brown paper bags – signed proudly by the artists themselves – HMM. Not because it mattered to anyone receiving the bag, but because it made the boys feel special.
Their group name on a bag.
The Activity Begins.
Next came the actual ‘moving mountains,’ and boy, did they move them.
Instead of heading to the mall (it was Black Friday, after all), they stuffed the bags- and our bodies- into the family car, then drove into Manhattan (we love you, NYC!).
Driving around in NYC on a post-gobbly, chilly afternoon, we searched for anyone that could use a meal prepared with love.
Fast forward to that evening, with the sun already set – my boys smiled their satisfied smiles, beaming with pride from the long day’s hard work.
It wasn’t just the physical experience that taught the boys. They also learned a lot. We got to talking about homelessness. About what it meant. There may have been a tear or two shed, in the course of our afternoon, seeing some of the harsh realities, and actually feeling them as we watched. I also touched on why some of the strangers we tried to help may have yelled back at us. Or what it meant to be homeless and how people may land there.
They learned about being hungry enough to accept a meal from a stranger, because they saw it first-hand. They also saw the smiles of appreciation, and they knew that what they did was good.
But most of all, they learned that giving back to someone in need is the best feeling in the world – and that it doesn’t take much to feel it.
Project #2: Nursing Home Casino Night
We contacted our local nursing home and asked is we could come liven things up a bit, with our presence.
A date was set and, joined by several friends from school and their parents, we showed up at casino night, to give the old folks an afternoon they wouldn’t forget.
The children took to their station and were naturals. In fact, so were the moms! Part of entertaining nursing home residents involves adopting a cheerful, enthusiastic, and outgoing vibe, and this crew was absolutely equipped for just that.
They threw, and pulled.
Tossed, and bet.
They were given an afternoon
That they wouldn’t forget.
The staff could not stop raving about the children’s engagement and the group’s enthusiasm as a whole. Turns out the residents had a blast. We had moved mountains.
The benefits of nursing home residents interacting with the younger generation cannot be underestimated. This has been written on in the past, and benefits are clear. Take a look at a write-up on a program that does just this.
Project #3: Valentines for Hospitalized Kids
This was so special.
My sons worked on handmade holiday cards on a Valentine’s Day, to be handed out at the local children’s ward to the hospitalized children.
We had a number of friends join us in this fantastically original and artsy project, and were able to collect a huge bag of cards!
Not only that, but a local baker kindly volunteered to contribute her beautifully hand-crafted cookies. We handed in the delectables – with difficulty, because it was hard to part with the treats – to the children, along with our handmade cards.
Kudos to Keren Avrahami, the baker, who can be reached on her FB page here if anyone local has something special planned and needs a handmade special sweet.
What made this all even more special was that the hospital sent each of the children who participated a personal thank you letter, when all was said and done.
Project #4: Supplies for Pregnant Women in Need
The last project is actually going on right at this very moment.
We decided to help out a center near my workplace, up at Pearl River, NY, which helps pregnant women who could use maternity clothing and baby supplies.
My sons turned to our local school and asked others in the community for help sending in clothes they may otherwise have thrown away. The boys then took to task, creating a collection box that came from the heart, to peak the interest of the children at their school.
Nothing makes a parent more proud than watching the hard work of their children, as they look to help others, and right in front of their very eyes.
While it’s not a Jasper Johns original, I’d say this isn’t that far off.. at least let’s agree it’s an abstract.
Either way, I’m so proud.
My boys are putting together their thoughts, their time, and their effort. They are giving back and they are doing it in the best way that they can, as kids. Nothing is fancy, and nothing is beyond anyone’s means. And everything – everything – is straight from the heart.
I hope that I’m imparting empathy. I can’t be sure. Nothing is sure these days (except death and taxes). But I hope that through these projects, my children are learning to be empathetic.
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