I try to do service projects with my kids but they always end up fighting at the end. And, even after seeing people that are homeless, they are still ungrateful and whine about doing simple chores like putting dirty socks into the hamper. What do I do? Where am I going wrong?
– Dad of Entitled Kids
Dear Dad of Entitled Kids,
I don’t think you are necessarily doing anything “wrong,” but I would like you to think about what you do before and after those service projects. Are you treating these service projects like items to get done on your to-do list?
Or, are you involving your kids from the beginning of the process?
I’d like to suggest slight shifts in how you are doing this.
- Partner with Your Kids: When you see a need in the community, the chance to complete a service project, invite your kids into the planning process. Ask them how they would like to help address the problem or participate in the service project.
- Teach Them About the Need: I find that kids that refuse to help don’t really understand the need. If your kids are in this space, then take some time and complete awareness activities that build their awareness and knowledge of the problem before jumping into a problem.
- Plan the Project Together: If they have a crazy idea, please consider it. Maybe even try it. (Many of my kids’ crazy ideas have been more successful than I ever thought possible.)
- Prepare Them Before the Project: Who are you helping? What can you expect? How is the person’s life the same and different from your own?
Be As Involved As You Ask Them to Be: This doesn’t work well if you are thinking that this is just for them. Making this a family affair is the best way to create lasting kindness habits for your family. Don’t drop them off at the service project, go with them. Don’t stand and talk with the other adults at the service project, do the work needed right alongside your kids.
Afterward, Reflect: These experiences are more memorable if you allow the quiet, reflective space to ask/think/talk about the service that was given.
After the service project or act of kindness is over, talk about:
- If you helped in the way that you planned to help
- How your kids think the recipient felt when you provided service
- What your kids felt when they helped
Often times, it is simply talking about how the person smiled, said thank you, or otherwise showed emotion in response to the service.
These conversations start a momentum to allow the act of being kind and serving to touch their hearts and start to explain those intangibles of reaching out with compassion to others.
What If They Out Right Refuse to Help?
Let’s figure out why they don’t want to help. What will they be giving up? Do they think this will be all torture and no fun?
Everyone I know wants to have fun. And, by teaching your kids that they can have fun when they are helping others, it helps drown out all those other competing activities that win over kids more easily.
- *YOU* should be having fun. Kids smell adult reluctance a mile away, and then they play on it. If you are involved and having fun, then they are more likely to as well.
- Make it a party. Small or big. Basically, you can do anything and put the word “party” at the end of it, and all of a sudden it will be an amazingly fun time!!
- Dress up. Seriously, kids to love to dress-up. Use their interest whether it is robots, superheroes, fancy dresses, or kittens. Not only is it fun, but once they are dressed, they are investing themselves in the service project and investing themselves in a way that shows that they want the event to go well. (and they don’t even know it)
- Involve a treat. I can’t remember all the times my mom was able to get us involved with work by promising a treat as part of the process.
I know that these suggestions may seem full of frippery and nonsense. And, they may be. The essence of what is needed is a way to “catch” their attention . . . and then they get busy helping others and don’t even realize it. Once you’ve got good “kindness action” going, you won’t have to use these types of frippery and nonsense if you don’t want to because they will have started to recognize the good things that they get out of serving and how powerful their service is for others.
Want an easy act of kindness to get started? Leave a nice note for the mail carrier.
You’ve got this!