Your Grandchild Can Make A Difference
By Lauren Teegarden
Beginning in 2007, teach your grandchildren the importance of altruism--and help them bring out the best in themselves by helping others. Even young children are concerned with fairness and want others to be treated well. Build on this desire to teach empathy as your grandchild grows.
Altruism is defined as unselfish concern for the welfare of others. When your grandchildren demonstrate this selflessness, praise them. Tell them exactly what they did right: "It was thoughtful of you to help Mommy carry in the groceries." Because you noticed their behavior, your grandchildren will value their actions as well.
Encourage grade-school aged children to talk about their feelings. Demonstrate that you care by listening intently. Don't be afraid to share your own feelings, either. By saying, "I wasn't very patient today when the milk spilled on the floor, was I?" your grandchildren will understand that adults have feelings and emotions also.
Teach your grandchildren to notice when other people are kind. At a park or other public place, find a spot where you and your grandchild can observe other people. Try playing a game where you guess what emotions other people are experiencing. Once your grandchildren better understand feelings, then they will want to help others.
Involve Children in Charity
Grandparents who model altruistic behavior will be rewarded when their grandchildren emulate this selfless behavior. By involving your grandchildren in charity work, they will learn the value of helping others, develop a sense of civic responsibility, and build their self-esteem by accomplishing something worthwhile. Additionally, service projects can improve teamwork, increase academic skills (such as communication and reasoning), and develop problem-solving skills.
Suggest a Project
For younger children, pick a suitable community service project. Young kids can easily relate to canned-food or toy drives. Suggest that your grandchild donate outgrown clothes and toys to a homeless shelter or the Salvation Army; then, take him or her with you to drop them off. Younger children enjoy learning how things fit together and will benefit from hands-on service experiences.
Community centers, libraries, homeless shelters, hospitals, and schools are excellent places for kids to make a difference. For your local hospital, help your grandchild draw pictures to brighten rooms or collect and donate toys and books for patients. At homeless shelters, hold a blanket and clothing drive, bake cookies, or help serve meals. In your local neighborhood, plant and care for trees, build benches or playground equipment, or pick up litter.
Middle school and high school students are concerned with the larger picture and may want to initiate their own projects. Encourage your teenage grandchildren to choose a problem in their community and then research the topic. (Try homelessness, hunger, unemployment, or recycling.) Find out what organizations are involved already. Then, encourage teens to write letters to government officials, newspapers, and local business leaders alerting them of the cause. Media involvement is key to raise awareness.
If your teenage grandchild truly feels passionate about a local issue, suggest that he or she testify in front of the local school board, legislature, or City Hall. If your grandchild has a specific idea to improve the community (such as offering free breakfasts to underprivileged students or creating a community garden), then his or her testimony will stand out--committee members realize that children have no motives other than a sincere belief in the cause. Helping shape legislation empowers and excites teens, creating a foundation for community activism.
Finally, most projects need money to make them a reality. Give your grandchild some practical suggestions for fund raising:
- Hold a bake sale with delicious, homemade goodies.
- Create a neighborhood flea-market, where families donate their books, used clothes, or crafts to sell.
- Have a car wash, where all money raised funds the cause. Create fliers to advertise the services and explain the cause the money will support.
- Establish birthday donations. On birthdays, teens can ask parents, friends, and grandparents to donate to a special organization instead of purchasing a gift. Include a card that explains the cause.
While tackling a cause is sometimes overwhelming, don't let your grandchildren give up hope: other kids and teens have been successful. Here are a few examples:
- Twelve-year-olds in Sandwich, Massachusetts testified at the Massachusetts State Capitol to pass a law to ban smoking on public school grounds. The Massachusetts legislature passed the law, and several other states adopted it as well.
- In Chicago, a community health clinic for poor women and children was about to be shut down, but fifty children organized a protest in front of the clinic. Attention from the media and lawmakers helped the clinic gain funds to stay open.
- High school students in Las Vegas helped thirty homeless adults compose professional resumes at a job fair, helping more than a third actually receive work.
Lauren Teegarden, a high school senior, lives in Portland, Oregon. With grandparents of her own, Lauren recognized the value of strong grandparent-grandchild interactions and started "The Grandparent Connection," a free monthly email newsletter with articles, advice, and activities for grandparents. Visit her website, www.thegrandparentconnection.org, to sign up for the newsletter.