It starts with us, as parents, mentors, teachers, and role models.
We live in a society that is all too often “every man or woman – or even child – for him or herself,” and these skewed values are shaping young generations. Do we really want to live in a world in which we can’t recognize that our neighbor’s triumphs and struggles are very much our own? What if, instead, we taught our children to embrace a “we” mentality as they grow and eventually shape their own communities?
When I was a child and then a young woman, I faced very difficult losses, and because I didn’t feel included in a “we” community, I suffered. Pain, loss, and failure are a part of life and unavoidable, but suffering is optional. If we don’t take the time to reinforce an emotional foundation, tools for coping and helping others, and a sense of community for our kids, they too will suffer when they inevitably face hardship. Because of my personal experience, I am on a quest to turn the lights on for those in the dark, and that begins with teaching our young generations to build inclusive “we” communities in which love and belonging are at the core.
How do we empower kids to build “we” communities? Here are four traits we must instill:
What if we woke up each day with our families, best friends, and classrooms and made the collective decision to go out together (yes! Like superheroes in capes!) and find ways to be kind, to bring a smile to someone’s day, and help others who may be struggling. It all starts with our commitment to being kind, and from there we can teach our kids that embarking on a mission of kindness can truly build connections on all kinds of levels.
When I am hungry, angry, lonely, or tired, I hold tight to what I think is “mine, mine, mine.” It is justified. I need it. I earned it. I can’t survive without it. I am living from fear and scarcity. When I get in this space, I realize I am alone by my own thinking. I don’t belong anywhere, not even to myself. We all feel like this from time to time – especially kids.
How do we bridge the gap and get back to love and belonging? When we notice that our kids are in a negative frame of mind, we must teach them first to pause and take a deep breath. Then we can encourage them to ask themselves where they can help someone: share their time, their food, or their toys. When we share, we create smiles (ours and the recipient of our sharing) – and smiles connect us. Let’s teach our children that a smile is a “u-shaped bridge” that connects one point to another, and that the more we share, the more connected and happier we will feel.
Children often have a range of emotions coursing through them, and it’s up to us to teach them how to harness these emotions for good. When they are facing a trial, they can listen to how others got through a similar tough time to be uplifted and, in turn, uplift others. Listening will also make kids realize that they are never alone – there are always others who have gone through something before us, and we can all learn from each other’s experiences. We need to remind children that there are teachers, mentors, and peers who are willing to listen to them, and that if they are willing to listen to others, we will be able to build a strong “we” community.
A hand, a listening ear, someone taking the time to see you and hear you, even cry with you – this is the most valuable gift we can give and receive. By extending ourselves to another person in need, we are telling them “I value you!” These gestures leave an eternal, angelic mark that changes people forever. We need to teach our children at a young age to look outside of themselves, and to realize that it feels just as good to give genuine care as it does to receive it.
“Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have,” said Margaret Mead.
Let’s be the change. It starts with us, as parents, mentors, teachers, and role models, and extends to the generations who will carry this world on their shoulders. They watch us carefully, so if we can find ways to be kind, share, listen and care and teach them to do the same, then they will have the tools necessary and be empowered to build a better world.