Exception to the rule. Yet now you would be hard-pressed to find a child who is not this way. How have television and video games come to rule our households? Three words. Easy. Way. Out.
Yep. It’s us. It is just too darn easy to turn the television on or hand our child an iPad to keep them busy. After a long day at work, parents just want a peaceful, quiet house, not children run- ning around screaming and fighting. Now, take note. My kids could give you a hundred different reasons why Minecraft is educational or how it’s healthy for them to “socialize” with their friends on Fortnite. While this may be true, media shouldn’t be the primary outlet for our child’s energies. I learned a concept which changed my young adult life. One which I wish I had learned as a child. Moderation. “Everything in moderation”, people say. Let me let you in on something. Children do not understand moderation. Give a child a device and they are off to the races, not stopping for anything. Even to pee. They can navigate any digital device. Sure, being digitally savvy will give them an edge in their careers someday. But can they empathize with others? Show unselfish love? Do they understand that life is more than just about them? These skills are far more valuable.
Empathy is often a trait lacking in the modern child. Parents have gotten so obsessed with “self” that we have forgotten to instill a sense of “otherness” in offspring. The current pandemic has made it difficult to be around others safely, especially the most vulnerable crowd, the sick and elderly. If you don’t specifically teach them, they will fall back on what you have modeled. We must ask ourselves if we show empathy to others or if we are too worried about “self” to care? If our children have only our example to go on, how will they fare later in life?
One constant in life is that there will always be sick and elderly, and they will always need help. We are blessed in our country to have a healthcare system which cares for the physical needs of the needy. But what of their emotional needs? This is one area in which children can really make a huge impact. My eight-year-old daughter is a light in every room she enters. She is cheerful and always looking for ways to help others. One day she made a keen observation. She asked me why “old people” always smile and readily talk to her. It is the hope they find in her innocence. A hope they once had and have again for a brief moment. A child’s hope radiates outward. They can- not help but shine the light of a life waiting to unfold. An adventure waiting to commence. A story waiting to be told.
So how do our children learn empathy? They may not fully understand what someone is going through, especially at a young age (and I do recommend starting as young as possible). However, they can show compassion on people going through difficult circumstances by serving them. But how? As parents, we can make our children aware of others’ situations (in an age-appropriate way) and ask them how they would feel if they were the ones going through it. Ask your child what would help them get through the circumstance. Typically, my children would say pizza. Or ice cream, of course. Nar- row their thoughts to what the actual person suffering needs and come up with a plan to help. By assessing the situation and recognizing a need, children will gain a sense of empathy. In a world which focuses on me, me, me, we must be intentional about teaching our children this valuable ministry tool. Here are some practical ways to show empathy to sick and elderly:
• Send a homemade card with a handwritten message and put it in the mail
• Make a gift basket and drop it at the doorstep. Ring the bell and run!
• Weed an overgrown garden for someone who cannot do it themselves
• Send a framed picture of your child and the sick or elderly person
• Bake cookies or another special treat with your child to bring to someone
• Send a video of your child singing an encouraging song or favorite hymn
I will leave you with a verse of encouragement. Be well and remember we are always teaching our children something by our actions, whether it be good or bad. Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.
Proverbs 22:6 (KJV)