Monday, November 10, 2008

Teaching Children to Take Action

No one knows how children will turn out; a great tree often springs from a tender plant.
-- Norwegian proverb

My husband and I are politically aware adults -- we read the news and talk about justice issues in the world on a daily basis. We are keenly aware that our actions can have a positive effect on our community, if we choose to make activism a priority. We can have a broader effect, if we choose, by sharing our ideas or contributing to causes.

I have always talked to my children, most often in terms of our faith but also, recently, in terms of our duty as American citizens, about why my husband and I believe what we do.

Alleviating poverty is one of the first priorities on our "activist list". For us, it is important to feed hungry people and provide clothing to those who do not have it, not because we are wealthy, but because we can.

As a Christian Parent, I understand that teaching my children about the world -- about justice and injustice and about the highs and lows of life -- is a key aspect of of parenting, if I want my children to become mature, understanding adults. How do I do it? I get them involved.

When my oldest was 3 years old, he worked with me at a local food pantry once a week. He couldn't do much, just put cans or fruit into grocery bags. But he helped me work at the desk and talk to the clients who came in for food. He played and laughed with them.

When I drop clothing off at our local ministry for families in need, my children accompany me. We talk about why we give and who will be wearing their jackets and dresses and shoes. At the end of last year, I was told by my friend at the ministry that they served 637 children in our area last year. That's a lot of children who need help. I share that information with my kids so that they know there are children who are cold tonight, but they also know that there is something we can do to help make them warmer.

My children's preschool has a mitten tree every winter. I would always let my children choose colors for scarves and hats that I would knit for the tree. The act of making something carefully, of taking the time to create something warm and beautiful was not lost on my children. They have each commented on the labor and time; they have been sources of conversation about gratitude and "why" that have, I hope, led each of us to greater understanding.

Every parent has a way of looking at the world and seeing the ways it could be made better. I am keenly aware that there is more I can do. I am committed to challenging myself to make more of a difference if I can. Perhaps now is the time to reach farther than our local community.

As a part of Bloggers Unite!, I am dedicating a portion of this post to Refugee awareness. There is a crisis in our world right now. In Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Darfur, and anywhere there is conflict, there are good people who must flee to keep their families safe. For some, including children, citizenship rights can be taken away, resulting in "statelessness" where they do not have a homeland to return to. Others can be repatriated, but need help with food, clothing, and housing.

As parents, we may not be able to save the world, but we can educate ourselves on the real struggles of millions across the world. As difficult as it may be, we can talk to our children about the reality of the refugee crisis, not in horrifying detail, but in truth. We can talk about what we learn. We can listen. We can act.

Teaching children to take action means that we must be willing to confront difficult realities as parents. No one is going to solve all the injustice in the world at once. And parents and families often feel that our plates are full. But, we can choose to focus on small ways to affect larger problems. When we do that, we give our children another tool in their toolbox, another type of perspective, an opportunity for compassion.

Our children will need those tools, perspective and compassion. As they grow into adults, they can be caretakers for their world, just as we are of ours. When parents teach action, even in a small way, we have the chance for our lessons to be far-reaching. So, whether we work as helpers in our towns, our churches, and our neighborhoods or whether we reach beyond the local to take on something much larger, the activism we teach can have much broader effects than we even realize -- like ripples in a pond.

I would encourage you to start with your own children by even choosing one issue to take on as a family. Will it be helping a neighbor, building a home for someone who has nowhere to live, feeding the hungry? You choose. But be sure to make the choice -- and start teaching.


How can we act right now to help refugees? One way is to support organizations like Refugees United. It is an organization that provides a forum -- a way for refugees to communicate and find their relatives. It is free and confidential and focused on giving refugees and their family the means to take action themselves. It can help parents find their children or wives find their husbands. Refugees United is one example of what can happen when caring people unite to solve large problems. Overcoming the communication obstacle in refugee communities brings families one step closer to becoming whole.

-Midwest Mom


  1. Wonderful idea to help spread the word regarding this ongoing crisis. I have emailed your post to my son so he might teach his children.

  2. I love reading your post. You are so grounded in your approach. Thanks!

  3. Keep up your fantastic work as parents! Kudos to you both.

  4. I wonder, though, how you even start to talk about something that is such a huge problem! I can barely wrap my own mind around it. I don't want to be so gloom and doom with my kids.

  5. Me-me King: Thanks for visiting the blog! I'm so glad that you'll share with your son. Teaching our kids, even in small doses, is so important.

    Screaming: Thank you for the compliment, and thanks for the visit!

    Pentad: I'm glad you came by to read. Thanks.

    Adele: That is a really good question. I know how to approach our local issues, but the refugee crisis is another animal completely. We will probably talk to them about the good work that Refugees United is doing to put families back together. If we start the conversation off by talking about important ways that people can help with large problems, our kids are very good at asking questions to get at the difficult truth underneath. When we focus on how to help, it allows them to approach the topic on their own level. Sometimes questions will happen right away -- sometimes much later. But, at least we've opened the door for the discussion to take place. Obviously, any discussion should be age-appropriate. I don't blame you for being cautious about it. It shows you are a thinking, careful parent. Hope that helps.

    Thanks for your question and thanks for reading today.

  6. So well thought out and delivered. Why am I not surprised? Very well done.

  7. Thanks for ur precious comments :)
    I checked back ur post and I just appreciate the way u propose to inculcate the sense of responsibility among children. We adults are responsible for bringing the best out of the coming generation.. to make them grow into a sensible citizen rather than an individual with sole aim of making bucks in life.

  8. Thanks, Tricia and Karina.

    You're right. I am always amazed at my children's capacity for understanding and compassion. That's why I find ways to let them see the world beyond their own protected space. What I'm discovering is that they even have some pretty good ideas about how to address need.

    My son said the other day that we should go through our toys to give away the ones we don't use as much. That was something coming from a five-year-old.

    I like that my children are discovering their own sense of responsibility and inner generosity. Those things are tough to teach -- but maybe not as tough as we imagine.


  9. I followed your link over from BlogCatalog and just wanted to comment that that your post for Bloggers Untie Day is wonderful. It is so important to teach our children about important causes.

  10. Thanks, Cindy.

    And your green crafting blog is a great way to put your ideals into action. There's nothing like making something as plentiful and annoying as plastic grocery bags into something useful and helpful.
    Great job! (And thanks for coming by!)


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