Caring Toddlers? Socially Aware Preschoolers? Raising my kids to be socially responsible adults in this world can seem overwhelming sometimes, but then I remember that my parents did it. I was the fifth child of seven and, by the time I came along, my parents didn’t have a lot of time for volunteering or activism. Yet, I grew up seeing them as activists and volunteers and wanted to be both myself. My point here is that we don’t have to be Mother Theresa to influence our children. Our kids are watching us and little things make a big impact on them. Here is a list of things my parents did or that I’ve observed in other places that I think are good starting points for raising preschool-age children who are empathetic, grateful and begin to see a world outside of their own. None of these suggestions are likely to be new to you. These six ideas for raising socially aware preschoolers and caring toddlers are more of a reminder that our best is probably enough and we do influence our children in the little things we do.
1) Share the Social Issues You Are Passionate About With Your Kids
Cocoa was a very big part of my childhood. My mother made us “goodnight cocoa” and “good-morning cocoa” every day. Although I had to be about four at the time, I remember my mom explaining to me the reasons we had to change brands. She told me how she was distressed by marketing tactics in third world countries that she found unacceptable. Thirty-some years later, I still avoid this brand. In fact, because of that one conversation, if there is a chance to boycott something I’m morally opposed to, I jump on it. One conversation, changed me profoundly.
2) Share Your Values Even When They Are Controversial
This is a hard one for me. I know my kids have big mouths and I prefer to keep my values and political views to myself. However, my parents were never afraid to share their values. I know this kept me firm in my own values through high school even when all of my friends were more worldly. Another part of sharing your values is doing the things you want them to learn and letting them see you — take them to vote with you or take them to church. You probably already do these things because you can’t leave them at home alone.
3) Express Gratitude Together
I think the easy way to do this grace before meals, but if prayer isn’t a part of your family dynamic than just a discussion of reasons to be thankful as you eat dinner or tuck them in will give them an thankful outlook on life.
4) Age-Appropriate Volunteering for Caring Toddlers
Let Your Kids Pick Something Out for the Food Shelf.
The grocery store is a great place to teach our children about giving. When you are in the canned food or cereal aisle you can ask them to pick something out to help feed hungry kids. Along the same lines, the postal service’s Stamp Out Hunger campaign is a simple little way to give with your kids. I send them to the cupboard to pick something. My mom used to do this, too, and I know I used to pick the thing I hated the most. This has been a good conversation starter with my kids about why we give to those in need and why maybe we should pick our favorite item instead of our least favorite.
Have Your Kids Help You Pick Out a Toys for Tots Gift.
Toys for Tots and programs like it can be particularly challenging for preschoolers. They tend to pick out something they want for themselves, so giving it away is not easy. When my oldest was in Kindergarten, she picked out Zuzu Pets as her Toys for Tots gift. It was difficult even at 5 for her to realize the toys were for others. Of course she ended up with one in her stocking, too, but not for another three weeks. This can be a good lesson to learn and if we praise our kids for doing the hard thing, it will be easier to do the next time.
Collect Things Like Labels and Bottle Caps.
This is a really easy way to give with your small kids. We used to have a box where my kids put every plastic cap they found. We saved them to give to Aveda for recycling. This was actually a really fun project. The bottle caps made great open-ended toys while we built up our collection. Unfortunately, Aveda is only working with the 1600+ schools already signed up for its program, but there are other things to collect. Kids love collecting things, why not give them a purpose to their collecting. The following are some ideas.
- Box Tops for Education. (Aww this went digital in 2019. You can still collect, but it is less tactile)
- Labels for Education.
- Pop Tabs for Ronald McDonald House
- The Minneapolis Toy Library collects old crayons to recycle.
- Aluminum Cans for your charity of choice
5) Read Books or Watch Films That Teach Compassion or Show Other Cultures
I don’t even want to start with suggestions for which books and films. There are so many good ones. Doing Good Together has a variety of big-hearted book lists has an annual book club where they suggest books.
6) Practice Caring Behavior At Home
Family members are the best place to practice caring behavior. Siblings, in particular, are practice for the world. Where else can you learn to like people who you don’t always agree with and love people who you don’t always like? Insist on respectful language and use it yourself. Eventually (I’m assured) it becomes habit. As my first toddler navigates the teen years, I can’t tell you she is always respectful to her siblings, but she is polite and caring with others. That’s a start.
Raising caring toddlers into caring adults is a long haul, but it doesn’t have to be difficult if you work in these habits.