How to Raise a Civic-Minded Child
I know, the title of this post may be bringing horrible flashbacks to the dreaded eighth grade civics class. Trust me, I try to block those days out of my mind as well. But, as a mother who now analyses every way that I can secure my child's comfort and safety, civics has taken on new meaning. After all, I as a mother can only do so much to improve the life of my child. I can work to provide food, shelter, and clothing for her (and other material items that she needs). I can love her and provide her emotional support. But, when it comes to ensuring that the society she grows up in fosters the same nurturing environment that I do in the confines of our home, I have little control. I have to place my faith in the community around us to instill similar values into my child that I support in our home.
And I believe that my children should play a role in the society that they live in. That is why I think it is so important to teach Bean the values of community from a young age. But, where do you start with such a young child?
What does it mean to be civic-minded?
Well, before you can start teaching your child, it is important to define for yourself what it means to be civic-minded.
There are many definitions for what it means to be civic-minded. Here is a simple definition: A person who is interested in and cares about what is going on in his community. A civic-minded individual may participate in community service projects, serve on a school board, attend town meetings, or participate in local government.
Now that you have a general definition, it may be good to think about what that means specifically to you. After all, we aren't all going to run for school board or enter into politics. But, that doesn't mean you still can't be involved in your community. So for me, when I say I want Bean to be civic-minded, it means that I want her to develop a passion for caring for others in her community. At this age, I see that best accomplished through community service and the teaching of empathy.
The next step is thinking about how we can actively reach this goal for your children.
Teaching the Value of Community Service
Now, Bean is just over 15 months. There is not much that she can physically do in terms of community service, at least on her own. But, at this age Bean learns the most by watching what her father and I do. This means that even though she can't physically plant a tree on earth day, she can watch me do it, and will learn while watching. If I want Bean to be involved in the community, I must be involved too.
These don't have to be intense service projects. You don't have to build a house while your baby is watching. It could be as simple as bringing canned foods to your local food bank, or planting flowers at a local community day. As you are volunteering, narrate for your child. Explain to them the importance of helping your community.
As your child gets older, get them more involved in their projects. Allow them to participate along with you in age appropriate activities.
Promote Nature Over Things
One tricky thing about getting children to value something like community, is that the benefits are often intangible. And, in a society where so much of our time is spent obsessing over material things, a child may find themselves gravitating towards a new fancy toy rather than civic engagement. But, as parents, we can try to temper this desire for material goods by promoting nature. This can be accomplished by taking nature walks, learning about animals, visiting a farm, or simply spending more time outside. If your child values nature and all that it encompasses, they may be more inclined to try to preserve and protect it through community engagement.
Teach Your Children Empathy
Empathy is a difficult concept for even most adults to understand. But, empathy in its simplest form is understanding and appreciating the feelings and emotions of others. To do this, be open with your own emotions and tell your children how you are feeling. If you are sad, don't be afraid to cry. If you are happy, celebrate with your child and explain what it means to be happy and prosperous. When your child is angry, or frustrated, explain to them what that emotion is and let them know that it is perfectly normal. Help find ways for them to express their emotion safely. And, when you see other people expressing emotion, point that out to your child and try to imagine how the other person is feeling. Empathy is not something that your child is going to learn and understand over night. But, with time, it is something they will learn.
These are just a few of the building blocks that will help you teach your children to be civic-minded. As your child continues to grow older, they will build on these principles and hopefully will find a way to become involved in the community that is comfortable to them.
Let me know your examples of civic engagement in children and how you help to promote civic awareness to all!