I struggle with helping others out financially. Don’t get me wrong; I do it, but it’s not easy. I have to conduct a little self-talk to convince myself that I’ll be okay to donate ten bucks to the local elementary school’s jog-a-thon, that the man on the street asking for a buck for a cup of coffee won’t break my bank.
Growing up poor does that to you. You hold on to money. Money is precious and you don’t give it to someone else who needs it, because you need it… at least that’s what I learned.
Financially, I’m fine today, but that “poor” mentality is still with me. That’s why my wife and I have made it a point to raise our daughters to be people who give back.
I teach third grade… My students have a very similar background to mine. One hundred percent of the kids at my school receive free or reduced meals and 97% are considered socio-economically disadvantaged. I get them. Life can be tough growing up like that. Financially, these kids and their families just aren’t able to help too many others, but I still want my 8-year olds to know the joy of being productive parts of their community. That’s one reason I started Random Acts of Kindness Month.
To be perfectly honest, I really started it for myself. It was a rainy winters day and I was entering my local drug store. Outside, huddled beneath an awning were three young people (late teens, maybe early twenties), two males and a female. They were covered with tattoos and piercings. One of the young men had what looked like a clothes hanger coming from his nostril. People gave them space and avoided eye contact as they entered the store.
As I shopped, I couldn’t help but wonder what their stories were. Why were they out in the rain? Were they homeless? Were they in trouble? So, when I came out of the store I handed each of them a chocolate treat.
They were stunned. Jaws dropped, smiles emerged, as well as Thank you’s and at least one “God bless you”. I know I didn’t change their lives, but I did change a moment of their lives, and it felt good. So good that I challenged myself to do one Random Act of Kindness a day for the month. And, that’s how it all began.
Setting the challenge
I told my family about the challenge, and my wife and two daughters (now 11 and 15) decided they too wanted to take the challenge too. Soon, I was posting on Facebook and challenging friends, and that eventually lead to the creation on a Facebook group with people from all over the world participating.
The next year, I decided to bring it into the classroom and challenge my students as well. We didn’t focus on monetary acts or purchasing items, but instead kind gestures, kind words, and offering help.
This year it’s grown into a writing project and presentation. It’s been an incredible month. I have seen students help each other with school work, pick up trash, hold the door for one another, leave anonymous compliments, and have heard that some have taken the challenge home and started helping out around the house more. I’ve even found hand-drawn pictures and “Why You’re The Best Teacher” notes on my desk.
So, what’s the point?
The point is it’s easy to encourage kindness with your children. Create your own random acts of kindness challenge for your family. Kids can bake cookies for the local fire department, mow a neighbor’s lawn, hand out cold drinks on a hot day, help around the house, write letters of gratitude to friends and family, leave a snack for the mailman, or volunteer at the local animal shelter. One a day for a week. One a week for a month. Whatever works with you and your family.
Here’s the neat part about all of this kindness. When a kid does an act of kindness, it’s not just a feel-good fleeting moment. It becomes contagious and spreads. It creates a sense of calm in young people and helps reduce stress. Self-esteem and confidence rise, and it allows our children to realize that they are important members of their community.
According to a study done by World Volunteer Web, “youth who volunteer…are more likely to feel connected to their communities, and tend to do better in school.” A child’s overall health and happiness can make dramatic improvement just by doing random acts of kindness.
So, as parents we should find ways to share kindness with our children. It benefits the receiver of the act. The community benefits because it spreads. The family is happier. And, your child develops calmness, self-esteem, does better at school and grows up without having to force himself to give back. It just becomes a way of life.
It takes time and work and effort to teach kindness through deeds to our children, but it’s an investment that will pay off ten-fold in so many ways: for your community, your child, your family, and for you, the proud parent.