One of the toughest things to teach a child is how to do for others in a selfless manner. Toddlers almost instinctively take toys away from each other, and one of the first words they learn is usually, ‘Mine!’ even though this is rarely said in most households. For this reason I looked back and thought about where we went right while raising our seven and thought I’d share.
1. Ask your children to do things for you.
Ask for little things, a glass of water, a piece of paper picked up. Make doing little things a normal part of your child’s life.
2. Do little things for your children.
If you do not extend them the same courtesies, then they will see what you ask for as oppression, and not just the way life is supposed to be.
3. Share the chores with your spouse.
If there are no ‘his’ chores and ‘her’ chore then children learn to pitch in when needed. Sure one person can typically do a task, but when life gets busy, make sure you lend a helping hand.
4. Pick up after yourself and others when you are out of the house and see a mess.
Watch that you do not teach the ‘it’s not my job’ attitude when you are out. If someone missed the garbage can at church, help out by picking it off the floor and putting it in the trash yourself rather than walking by it. Do not be judgmental. Explain that people have bad days, and everyone misses the trash sometimes. But also explain that if everyone left everything for the janitor, then the place would be a mess, and trash, after people have stepped on it repeatedly is much harder to clean up.
5. Do not have a double standard.
If you would not be that messy at home, do not be that messy elsewhere. Just because it is not yours does not mean that you do not have to take care of it. If anything you should be more careful because it is not yours to break.
6. Leave things better than when you found them.
Make a habit of cleaning up well whenever you borrow a place, even if the mess was there before you got there.
7. Set the example.
Remember, your children are watching you. Most of what they do will be because they saw you doing it. So, help your neighbor, hold the door, be nice to the waitress and they will likely do the same.
When the church has a work-weekend, go! When there is community work to be done, help! Take the children if possible. It is how they learn to work.
9. Make helping seem like fun.
Enjoy yourself. Visit with the people there and go out to eat, or for ice cream after. It is okay to have a small reward for a job well done.
10. Do not ask for too much.
If the work seems overwhelming, children will shut down. Break projects up into small manageable pieces and reward them after every step.
11. Work along side them.
If the project is big, help. Your working beside your child makes it seem like a needed job they can be proud to do rather than child-labor.
12. Don’t assume they are just being lazy.
Children do not have a lot of real-world experience and get overwhelmed easily. Before you yell, criticize or punish, redirect them. Tell them specifically what you would like them to do at the moment and talk them through the job. If this works, problem solved. If they continue to ignore you and the work, well, the consequences are for you to decide.
13. Reward work done when you were not watching more than work done under supervision.
Children need to learn to work when no one else is looking if they wish to be successful in life. If everyone learned to do this, we would need fewer supervisors, but that is besides the point. The point is, being self-motivated and not taking an unsupervised moment as an opportunity for a work slow down are skills you wish to cultivate, so reward them, and make sure they know why they are being rewarded.
14. Praise them for any spontaneous acts of good will.
Children respond to praise. If you want to see them offer guests a drink when they come to your house, make sure you praise them when they do, especially after the guest leaves.
15. Be the type of person you want them to be.
As a parent you are ultimately your children’s biggest influence. Make sure you are modeling the behavior you want to see in them.
16. Surround them with other positive influencers.
Don’t forget that the people around them will have an impact on their lives too. Make sure they are surrounded by people who behave in ways that you would want your children to imitate. They should have many role models by the time they reach adulthood, or they may get the impression that you and your spouse are just weird, and that all of that ‘good stuff’ is something they do not need to do.
17. Show them the rewards of going the extra mile.
Use others as an example and point out when someone was blessed because they were the type of person other people could count on, even when not asked. You reap what you sow is a fact of life. Make sure your children understand the long-term consequences of being selfless, as well as where a life of selfish desires will lead.
18. Do not flatter them to make them feel good.
Flattery is lie intended to curry favor. It does not get good long-term results. Instead it results in children who believe they can get away with doing nothing, and still be rewarded.
19. Do not manipulate them.
Ignoring them until they do what you want, or not doing the things they need you to do in a passive-aggressive manner just frustrates them and ruins their relationship with you. Consequences for disobedience should be clear and should not affect the things they rely on you for as children under your protection.
20. Explain the natural consequences to them.
In my house one of the common ‘lectures’ was, ‘If Mom has to do it all then there will not be enough time left to go where you want to and Mom will be too tired to want to do much else, so if you actually want out of this house on a regular basis I’d suggest you help.’ (’cause Mom wants to go to the movies, get ice cream etc too!) There are many ‘natural consequences.’ If you let the lawn go, there are mice and fines from the town. If you don’t take care of the car it does not run. Make sure the children know why they are doing what they do and how it benefits everyone in the home including them.