FAMILY / PARENTING
SHOW THEM HOW Cultivate a culture of compassion and activism at home. It is crucial to start by being kind to our children, treating them with respect and also being kind and loving towards other members of the family, and pets.
Show rather than tell. Volunteer as a family. By volunteering together, we can also create unique and precious opportunities for bonding with our children, when we can spend time together doing something good. A kindness challenge is a good way of fostering compassion and social awareness These could include donating their old clothes and toys to charity, going to homeless shelters and helping out, helping a neighbour, or even helping a sibling with something they might be struggling with. Engage them by having family traditions such as regular donations of old toys to charity or putting food items in a box over Christmas to take to the local soup kitchen. Children can bake cookies and make cards to take to the local retirement home. Decorating an outdoor tree for animals and birds to feed from over the winter months is a lovely way of connecting with nature while also building empathy with all living beings around them.
Every Christmas for the last few years, my daughter and I have been working in a soup kitchen serving meals to the homeless. I also run a social enterprise, and we have actively donated to charities since she was very young. Even when we do not talk to our children explicitly about social responsibility, children notice and assimilate a sense of justice and awareness of other people around them.
TALK ABOUT IT Emotions can be complex for young children to talk about. It is important to help them learn to vocalise these feelings in a way that they feel empowered and confident. Children have to feel confident within themselves before they can use their voice for others. We can also actively talk to our children about any injustice we notice in print or on television, such as gender inequality, homelessness or racism. We can explicitly point it out and ask what our children think about it. Depending on the age of the child, we can discuss the social and cultural context and the history of any issue that we encounter. I believe that it is important for us as a family to practice making time to talk about things that matter. For instance, rather than ignoring race, it is important that we actively encourage our children to talk about it and ask questions about their own race and others. By fostering a culture of dialogue and actively encouraging critical thinking in our children, we empower them to form judicious views about race. This helps develop a positive view of cultural diversity. Questioning stereotypes in children’s toys and films, and even clothes, is one way of starting a discussion about sexism and gender equality.
Creating stories and role playing is another good way of talking about kindness and empathy. Giving them scenarios where they could use compassion in real life can be fun too. There are many children’s books that have kindness as their main message. Robin Red Vest is one such lovely book to read with children, which helps children understand that thinking about others can be very fulfilling.
AND, FINALLY. ACTIVISM AND SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY CAN BE NURTURED. Little things everyday can make such a difference. Children learn best when they feel a sense of ownership and, by helping them learn to self-regulate from a young age, they will be more in control of their emotions and feelings. We can model good behaviour, and we can include our children in our own interests and activism. Conscious kids are likely to be more resilient and have a healthier view and connection with the environment and people around them.
AS PARENTS, WE COULD REFLECT ON SOME OF THESE QUESTIONS: • What is your idea of activism? • What do you do to put your ideas into practice? • Do you actively demonstrate social responsibility?
Other than that, one of the things that helped us was finding a cause and committing to it as a family. We created a project around it that we could work on together. Children of all ages can get involved as they can research the topic, create a simple website or blog, and create a banner or poster for their rooms. We also talked about endangered species, and looked at what human activities impact on the ecosystem, that in turn affects the animal population. While, as a young child, she could not influence the policies, we also discussed the small steps and actions that we could all take to make a change every single day. We planted wildflowers, and we rescued hedgehogs. We also brought a rescue dog and cats home from a shelter, which nurtured her sense of compassion and affinity with animals. The crucial thing is to keep talking and discussing with our children, helping them feel confident and empowered in their own ability to create positive social change.
MORE INSPIRATION WATCH Pragya's TEDx talk at tinyurl.com/pragyatedx FIND Pragya's monthly art subscription box at thearttiffin.co.uk READ The Awakened Family by Shefali Tsabary
FEBRUARY/MARCH 2019 www.thegreenparent.co.uk