Monday, January 20, 2014

Teaching gratitude through service

As a child you have probably played the game “Simon Says”. It’s a very ideal game to teach children to listen carefully and at the same time do the specific tasks mentioned. But along with instructions like  “touch your nose, touch your elbow, touch your ears, have you ever heard someone say “Simon says, touch your heart?” Probably not huh?

But why is it that it is quicker  for us parents to look forward to the time when we will be teaching concepts like the alphabet, numbers, colors and shapes to our young children. Eager to get them reading and writing. Now, how much did we put emphasis on teaching our children about emotions and how best to recognize and manage them? Or introspection and how they can reflect on their own thinking?  Or empathy and how it is important to be adept at perspective taking? So what if Simon says, show an angry face? Or think about what makes you excited? Or show how can we understand another person? What if the rules of Simon Says is not on listening and blatantly following but reflecting and understanding matters that are not tangible? What if Simon says, how do you touch somebody’s heart?

As parents of young children, we are very intentional in our approach to parenting. The activities that we provide at home and the interactions we promote serve a purpose and a reflects an understanding of the kind of values that we would like to share with our children. Values that we hope they will appreciate and value as well. One of such values that we emphasize on is about gratitude.
When the news about the devastating effect of Typhoon Haiyan came, I was distraught. I am grateful that my family are spared from it but after I saw the news and kept updated on what was going on, I felt helpless. What got me on my toes was helping projects related to raising funds for the victims. But it was not just me that was into it, the entire family got involved. Showing some of the clips to the children, we decided on what we can each do to help out. The kids turned to their art and made some thank you art pieces for some of the businesses that provided some donations. We also went as a family to the Giro 555 aktie and helped give food, lovingly prepared by other Filipina friends and with my husband's baked pandesal (Filipino breakfast bread rolls, yes a Filipino food prepared not by me but by my husband!), for the volunteers manning the telephone during that day.

Kids (Katie and Milos with their friend Rhean) presented their artwork to Henri van Eeghen, the chairman of De Samenwerkende Hulporganisaties (SHO)

What we got out of the experience as a family was encouraging. I immediately saw how the children are more aware of what is going around them and takes on another person’s perspective/experiences especially when they see something in the news. I knew that we were on a good track in nurturing reflective empathy – their ability to take another person’s perspective in order to understand what they’re feeling. The kids kept asking about how it is in the Philippines and at one point, Katie even made a wish that there will be no more storms to hit the country! With the simplest of activities, we can see how their empathy is working. There were even situations where they would cover their faces while watching embarrassing situations! 

Reflective Empathy is important in teaching pro-social or altruistic behaviours (engaging in activities simply for another person and not because they can get something out of it) and encouraged by what we shared during the Giro 555 aktie, we made it a point to put  giving back as a form of service or to show gratitude as an important part in our family values.

Hence, it was no surprise when I read of a post on volunteers needed to cook for the homeless. After someone posted of the Koken in een andere Keuken activity at the Stoelenproject at facebook, I knew that it would be a perfect opportunity to give thanks again as a family. The only day they had for January happened to be a day before my birthday and serendipity is definitely pointing me to grab the chance to give back and give thanks. 

Too bad we cannot exactly take photos of the event but I did got a photo of my husband washing the dishes and the little ones helped in getting the food ready. Armed with trays of food prepared by me and good friends, we had a very special time sharing what we have with the homeless who are part of this project (about 45 or so of them!) and gave thanks for another blessed year. My husband and I can only hope that we can continue to put the value of gratitude as an essential part of our lives. 
Served Filipino food! Something most likely different from what they are used to getting.

My husband doing the dishes.

This post is my simple contribution as we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service by challenging our readers (and ourselves!) to take the time to do service with our children. Today some wonderful, wonderful bloggers are sharing ideas about the kinds of volunteer work they have done with their kids. Share your own ideas in the comments or by linking up below! You can also join the discussion in our Google + Community! For some ideas on doing volunteer work with kids, browse our list of family-friendly service projects or great organizations to support. You can also follow our Teaching Global Citizenship and Black History boards on Pinterest.

Participating Blogs

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  1. What wonderful opportunities you are providing to your children to learn gratitude and empathy with others! Thank you for participating in the MLK Day of Service blog hop!

    1. Thanks Leanna! It is indeed a privilege to b able to provide such opportunities to our kids. I feel it I am learning more in the process and not the other way around. Thanks again for having me and hope to be part of the next blog hop!