Right before my son’s 11th birthday, we were at our local mall running an errand. We decided to take a look around the Nike store and stumbled on to a display about an organization called 9 million. Nike, Microsoft and the UN partnered together with a goal of reaching 9 million children around the world with better education, technology, and sports equipment. The display was touching and I could tell my son was intrigued with the pictures of kids his age that had a fraction of the lifestyle he enjoyed. I saw the moment as an opportunity so I asked my son if for his upcoming birthday party he would like to ask his friends for cash donations in lieu of wrapped presents. I did not present this idea to him with any sense of force or guilt so I was pleasantly surprised when he agreed. He collected a total of $120.00 and it was a proud moment for both of us when I took him to the Nike store to make the cash delivery. While he was there, he explained what he had done to one of the employees, and that was that... or so we thought.
Three days later my son got a call from the Nike Store Manger. She said she was very impressed with his donation and then asked him to come in to the store and pick out any pair of shoes he wanted! WOW! Can you even imagine the look of surprise and sheer joy on an 11 year olds face to get that kind of reward? It was truly a priceless moment. Not only did he receive a brand new pair of shoes, he was given a water bottle, basketball jersey, and Nike baseball cap, all worth more than the amount he donated.
Of course with all the celebration, I had to break it to my son that the material reward he got was a rarity. In the majority of cases the reward for a kind act is deep personal satisfaction for helping a fellow citizen of the earth. My son understood and over the years he has rewarded himself repeatedly. He raised even more money for 9 million at a school fundraiser that he spearheaded. He also actively donates through Kiva which is an organization that facilitates microloans for low income entrepreneurs around the world.
With the recent crisis in Haiti, I have seen so many parents and community leaders guide our youth toward noble fundraising efforts. It is so heartwarming to see but we need not wait for a disaster.
As a parent coach, I’d like to encourage every parent to seek out opportunities in which empathy, and compassion can be taught to children. These are skills that can last them their entire lifetime and have a tremendous trickle-down effect in the world. Teaching is the first step. The second would be to open a window of opportunity in which a child can jump on board of a good idea. The idea can be solicited from a child or suggested (not forced) by a parent. Third is to create a plan of action. When doing this, it is best to include your child as much as possible. The more ownership a child has in following through on a good idea, the greater his or her reward of personal satisfaction, self esteem, and mature independence will be. It seems like it could be a total win win.
Please leave comments about situations in which you have taught empathy or compassion to your children. The more inspiration the better.