I used to roll my eyes in private at school fundraisers when my daughter used to bring home her brochures at the beginning of the year. As is normal for any young beginner fundraiser, she wanted to sell the most for an out-of-reach toy. I explained on her fundraising debut that her dad and I combined did not have the contacts that would get her that kind of prize. I followed with reiterating that it was good to provide what we can for school, as school staff were working hard to make her as smart as she could be and this would be a great way to say, “thank you.” Let the empathy begin!
The year my daughter turned seven, our place of worship served Thanksgiving dinner at a homeless shelter. Many of the homeless smiled or engaged her in conversation. She expressed her surprise and joy over making these “poor people” happy. I was elated that she got that experience.
I was proud to read an essay my daughter wrote in fifth grade about soliciting donations for troops in Iraq while selling Girl Scout cookies. The girls collected tons of toiletries “because even though they were fighting wars, they want to be clean.” Bags and bags of Skittles and Starburst candy were sent as well because “the troops expressed a desire to see color amongst all the dust they were in.”
My daughter grew to love “doing grown-up things” at home like baking, folding her clothes, helping with dinner and sharing educational tricks she learned in school while I was pursuing my master’s degree in elementary education. Of course, this ceased temporarily during the teen years. It was a short blip that disappeared much to my delight. I am happy to report that she is a very compassionate young woman whose career is aimed at providing medical care for those in need.
Empathy can start anywhere – home, school, in scouts, at religious organizations, etc. The best way to build it is through enabling your child to partake. When children come to know they are filling a need, they understand empathy a lot better. Nothing like hands-on experience! Deeds are less likely to be done because they are nice to do, but rather will be done for specific benefits.