Small children love to talk about themselves and their lives, often regaling family and strangers alike with tales of what they had for lunch or their favourite television character. While this focus on the self may be charming at 3, it becomes less appropriate as kids grow up. But oftentimes parents don’t know what steps to take to ensure their kids grow up to be selfless human beings. Now, two new books offer parents practical and thoughtful ways to encourage “social responsibility” or “we-thinking.”
The first, by Michael Ungar, a Halifax-based therapist and author, is called We Generation: Raising Socially Responsible Kids (pictured above). Ungar explores why kids need to feel connected and loved, first by their families and then by extended family, friends and neighbours. Kids who feel connected, he argues, are likely to grow up to be adults who take an interest in the world and have a desire to make society a better place.
“Compassion, connection, responsibility, citizenship… this is the cycle we want to start at home,” he says. “The alternative is selfishness, alienation, exploitation and disenchantment.”
Ungar discusses how things like chores, family meals and regular time for talks and hugs all make children feel connected. He also provides some tried-and-true ideas for getting kids involved in their world (such as volunteerism).
The second book, The World Needs Your Kid: How to Raise Children Who Care and Contribute, is authored by Craig and Marc Kielburger, two Canadians who founded Free the Children, an international network of children helping other children.
The Kielburger brothers discuss the importance of the three Cs: compassion, courage and community, drawing on interviews with well-known activists like actresses Mia Farrow, Jane Fonda and Sarah Polley as well as ordinary Canadian children who are reaching out to help people in need. The book’s layout — with inspiring quotes and easy-to-read sidebars — allow even young readers (probably ages 10 and up) to delve into it.
In a time marked by great financial and social uncertainty, these books bring an important and reassuring message to parents: what matters most is not all the extra-curricular classes, clothes and gadgets we give our children, but our rather unwavering love and chances for them to contribute their time, energy and ideas to their community.