As we celebrate this holiday season, I have been thinking about how we teach our children to be generous. How do we teach empathy? How do we encourage our kids to be kind and loving in this “season of giving?”
I’ve decided that we don’t.
We can read books to our kids and teach them how to play nice, but in the end I believe we learn best from life experiences. Basically, I believe we all learn by doing.
Over the last few years, my husband has lost his job twice and we lost two beloved pets (all during the holiday season). These are certainly tough situations for adults, so how do we help our kids through this while still processing through it ourselves, and supporting each other?
We did it with the help of people around us.
As my husband looked for work we did not disclose to our children our complete financial situation, but we did not sugar-coat it for them either. We stopped going out to eat; cut every expense that we could, our family accepted government assistance and we bought nothing that wasn’t absolutely necessary. My husband got work with a temp agency in which he worked a job that was way below his education and pay scale as he looked for more permanent work.
When we lost our pets there was great sadness in our home. There were many tears as we mourned their loss. How do my boys learn that it is okay to show feelings, okay to accept support when they are sad? Okay to talk about it?
Through the kindness of others.
Through the job losses and when we lost our pets, my boys received hugs and kind words from their teachers and friends. People asked them how they were doing and offered the family baked goods, cards, gift cards, phone calls and even Badger tickets.
Being on the receiving end of kindness when hard things came our way helped us all realize how good it feels to know people care. Through kind words and gestures we knew we weren’t alone. When others reached out, we knew that they had gone through a similar job loss or loss of a beloved pet. We could feel less isolated.
Oftentimes when you are on the receiving end of such kindness, you are inspired to pay it forward and look to help others as you have been helped. Treat others as you would like to be treated. It is much easier to get this message across to your children when you have lived it.
I’m hoping that when one of their friends has a loss in their family that they will ask how their friend is doing and not avoid them because they’re uncomfortable. I hope they will remember how hard it was when some people avoided us because they just didn’t know what to say so they said nothing at all. I hope they remember that it only took a simple, “How are you doing?” and “What can I do to help?” to make a really big difference.
It has been said that for some this can be the loneliest time of year. Not only should we adults keep this in mind, but I hope to instill in my boys a sense of awareness for those around us. By having my kids see me making a meal for someone, making a phone call or sending a card I hope that we will maintain a way of life for them that will become a part of who they are. When they see me doing these things I am trying to make connections to our own experiences, “We’re sending them this card because their dog died. Remember how sad we were when ours did?” or, “Let’s make some cookies for the neighbor, she had surgery last week and I bet this will cheer her up. Remember when she brought us cookies last year after dad lost his job?”
No matter what, these last few years of hard times have shaped our family into what kind of people we are now. The best we can do is take what we have learned and do something positive. Because we will always remember how it felt when someone did it for us.