One silver lining of the current pandemic is that it presents an opportunity for us to teach kids about the importance of helping and caring for others. Right now just about everyone can use as much support as possible, and kids are in a perfect position to spread some of that kindness. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to help others, while still following all the CDC’s guidelines around safe social distancing.
Why it’s great to encourage kids to help
Not only does helping others make everyone, including children, feel good, there’s actual evidence that it’s great for mental health, too, helping you cope when feelings of loneliness or grief set in — something more and more kids are dealing with as school closures and social isolation continue. There’s also plenty of evidence linking generosity and happiness, so if your child tends to be moody or has been struggling emotionally during the pandemic, this may help combat negative feelings. It can also help the do-gooder self-regulate their emotions in general, decreasing the chance of depression, and improving their overall well-being.
If you think your kids are still too young to be nudged along toward helping others, consider that research shows that babies as young as six months can display signs of empathy. In fact, University of Washington research published in Scientific Reports earlier this year showed that babies might naturally be prone to altruism, as evidenced by a willingness to give up a snack for someone else, even when they’re hungry. “We think certain family and social experiences make a difference” to encourage this type of kindness, the co-authors of the study shared in a press release. “If we can discover how to promote altruism in our kids, this could move us toward a more caring society.”
Where can families begin?
Experts say the easiest place to start is with yourself. In other words, try to be a role model. “Modeling, also called observational learning, is one of the most underestimated and poorly used tools by parents,” Alan Kazdin, professor of psychology and child psychiatry at Yale University, recently told CNN.
Point out nice things you do for others, such as making a phone call to check in on a grandparent or neighbor, as well as those times when you see or hear someone else being kind or generous to others, like during grocery run. In fact, social distancing itself is an altruistic act, since many of us are giving up things we might really want for the greater good of society. Over time, kids get the message that helping and supporting others, even if it’s just a simple act, can really make a difference in someone’s life.
The best thing about it is that you don’t have to do anything special to teach your kids to be kind and generous, you just have to be kind and generous. Something as simple as treating others at home with kindness and patience, let alone how we treat those who aren’t in our immediate families, can have a profound effect on the role kids will feel comfortable playing in the future.
Things kids can do
Send a positive message
If your kids love coloring and making cards, have them write thank-you notes and draw pictures for local healthcare workers. Many families are also sharing messages of hope closer to home, in the form of rainbow drawings displayed in windows or drawn in chalk outdoors, often with the sweet reminder that “Everything is going to be okay.” You could also consider displaying messages of gratitude near the street or your door for delivery workers, postal employees, and others who risk exposure to the virus to make sure 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 that to good use right now. One Facebook mom whose daughter has great sewing skills encouraged her to make masks for local medical workers. Another father-daughter duo with amazing voices went viral with their rendition of a song meant to bring calm and peace to all those stuck at home, sick, or simply anxious about the current state of affairs. An older child who excels in a certain subject might offer to tutor younger kids being homeschooled. Whatever your child’s special gift might be, now is a great time for them to find ways they might use it to help others.
Start a kindness jar
Sit down with your child and brainstorm ideas for small, random acts of kindness they could perform. Write each idea on a slip of paper, and put them all in a jar or bowl — then challenge them to pull at least one out each week and do whatever the slip says. The Mental Health Foundation, the UK’s leading charity for addressing and preventing mental health issues, has some great ideas for acts of kindness 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 a household chore at home
- Arrange to watch a film at the same time as a friend and video call
- Tell someone you know why you are thankful for them
- Send a motivational text to a friend who is struggling
- 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 having your children collect a few and drop them off together at your local food bank — being sure to follow each location’s safe drop-off procedures so you’re certain to stay at least six feet away from others, of course. With unemployment levels peaking, homeless shelters and soup kitchens are expecting an uptick in community need.
You can donate your time, as well. Beck Wass, a woman in Cornwall, UK, created a printable postcard to make it easier to offer help to people in your neighborhood who might have trouble getting out of the house or connecting with others. You could fill them out, and let your child help you deliver them to neighbors’ mailboxes the next time you’re out for a walk.
Help start a local movement
Lots of charitable organizations can inspire local action. For example, Feed the Fight began in Washington, DC to support local businesses, and provide meals to essential healthcare workers and first responders. Feed the Fight accepts monetary donations from the community, which are used to place large carry-out orders at local restaurants, which are in turn delivered to workers. They, like many charities, provide instructions for launching a similar effort in your own community. While a movement like this would require a parent to be involved, older kids could help by handling tasks like drumming up support on social media, calling locally-owned restaurants to determine their capacity to fill orders, or getting a count of workers at the agencies and facilities you might serve.
Keep them connected
Calling grandparents or other loved ones is another way to support others during this time of social isolation — and there are lots of ways to keep ongoing virtual connections entertaining for everyone. Even just checking in on your neighbors right now with a call or quick note dropped in the mailbox will help teach kids lessons about helping others that will last long after this pandemic is over.