Social responsibility is being accountable for our impact on the world around us. If internalized, it would be a great help to solve many of today’s world issues, from poverty to climate change. How to internalize something? Start it from an early age! Here are three ways you can encourage social responsibility in your children.
Make Empathy Clear
A must-have in engaging large-scale issues
Empathy is the ability to understand other people’s situations, perspectives, feelings, and motives. Not only is it important here in societal issues, but it’s in close relationship with emotional intelligence, one of the top soft skills your child will need later at the workplace. Of course, you yourself know you do good deeds out of empathy, but your child probably doesn’t know.
If you sense a good time, explain to your child what empathy is and why it matters. At other times, you might say something that clearly points to empathy. For example, if someone drops a huge bag of groceries near you, you could tell your child, “Hey, let’s help that gentleman; he looks like he’s struggling.” Or, if you’re recycling paper, tell your child, “This will help make more paper, so fewer trees are cut!”
Talk About the World At Large
A big-picture view
Children are unaware of how things work, but they’re full of curiosity, too! You are your child’s main source of knowledge for a long time, and you inevitably shape their views of the world. With great power comes great responsibility, so make sure you don’t inject your views into your child. It’s probably best if you inform them of the issue and let them do the thinking.
And again, know your time and don’t start a discussion at the wrong time. (Some of these wrong times include when they’re stressed out, really trying to focus on something else, absorbed in another activity, tired, etc.) Backfiring also happens when you’re too insistent or didactic. If your child’s not taking your earlier advice, think back to the advice and look at it critically.
Your discussion topic could have to do with that particular moment, like if you decide to turn down the heat in a hot enough room. (Which can be a good conversation starter for global warming.) It’s always a good idea to run with your child’s interests; like if they love birds, global warming and how birds are in danger could start quite the memorable talk. If they’re into travel and foreign places, they would definitely be aware of racism.
Empower, Don’t Overwhelm
A great part of any responsibility is being able to give a response, or being “response-able”. Contrary to being “response-able” are being indifferent and being powerless. The previous two steps can help prevent or deal with indifference, and this step can help with empowerment.
Children, however well-informed or passionate, can easily feel powerless in the face of deep-rooted issues. Don’t bombard them with information; instead, try and introduce small, practical, and fun steps towards taking care of the issues. Here are some exercises you can try:
- To cultivate empathy:
- Expand your social circles: Empathy is all about relating to other people! So, have more people around yourself, and support your child in making more friends and hearing more people.
- Help them with feelings: Feelings can be difficult, even for adults. Help your child identify and understand their own feelings. If your child knows the how and why of their own feelings, they have a high chance of understanding their peers’ feelings.
- To cultivate responsibility:
- Have them help around: This is either a chore they could like or just good deeds they can do by themselves, like helping elderly neighbors.
- Provide structure, not control: If you want your child to do something, make clear expectations and then leave them to it. If you’re constantly controlling or monitoring their performance, they’ll rely on you and don’t internalize the structures you give them.
- Let them do it themselves: Most importantly, don’t solve your child’s issues for them. Be there to help, but let them take charge of their own problems and their lives.
- To tackle some big issues:
- Environmental issues: Go to footprintcalculator.org and calculate your ecological footprints. The visuals will interest children and adults alike, and the results page offers much-needed insight in clear categories. (“What do you say we eat more veggies and less meat, hmm?”)
- Poverty: Volunteer at a nearby charity or food bank. Either bring your child or recount how fun it is to contribute.
- Diversity issues: Spend time with friends of your own from different ethnicities and sexes, easily leading your child away from racism and discrimination. You can’t force children to be friends with each other, but your child is sure to have your model in mind when they encounter discrimination of any kind.
- Civil rights: Pick your own favorite civil rights movements, cushion any violence depending on your child’s age, and tell a good story sometime!
Cultivating social responsibility in children is one key step in facing many major issues in the world today. Talking with our children about such issues is a great idea. However, we must remember a couple of things: empathy plays a key role in any social responsibility, we must choose the right time and place for the talk, we must provide children with baby steps, so they’re not overwhelmed, and as always, we must practice what we preach!