How can we teach our kids to realize that there's more to fulfillment than the next video game, cell phone or fast food drive-through?
How do we teach our kids that what's going to fill them up is giving not getting?
As the mother of an eight-year-old boy and the founder of Just Like My Child Foundation, an international organization that saves the lives of thousands of mothers and kids, I am constantly thinking of how to move children from "me" to "we."
After eight trips to Africa on behalf of our non-profit enterprise here are my Five Steps to Raising Globally Conscious Kids.
1. Identify a cause. There is something so beautiful and pure about a child's innate passion and energy. Don't be afraid to leverage this! Ask your child: "What do you feel passionately about and love more than anything else?" What is your child naturally interested in? Expose your kids to a cause you feel strongly about, even if it's by sharing information with them, showing them an article in the paper about poverty or a great story of triumph over tragedy.
I have seen so many kids in Africa deal with things that my son will never have to know, and yet they smile through the day and are as willing and happy to love. Kids can handle way more than we imagine. Try to focus their inherent passion on a meaningful cause.
2. Interpret why it matters. Help your child to interpret why becoming conscious of others is important to them. Develop their natural instinct to be compassionate beings.
Why should they care that children they will never meet are dying of a disease that will never affect them? Why should they care if the polar ice cap is melting?
Introduce the concept of "oneness" - we are all in this together. The kids on the other side of the world are just like them; the earth is our home.
3. Make it interesting. Give them something to be interested in! Give them something that they can champion, something that will build their confidence in their own ability to make a difference.
We've been working in a number of schools now, sharing a program we call "Be The Change -- Spare Change Bringing Big Change to the Fight Against Malaria." We go into schools and teach a curriculum on kids in Africa, really underscoring how similar we all are. We teach a bit about malaria and how a simple $10 insecticide-treated bed net can save up to three lives.
We open up the presentation to questions. Surprisingly, I never have enough time to answer all the questions because they are SO eager to learn more. Invariably, the kids ask how they can help and practically mow me over with ways to collect spare change to make a difference.
4. Get them involved. One of the best ways to engage kids is to "involve" them in a project. When we do a "Be The Change" campaign in a school, the kids have free reign to create their own collection jars, design their campaign posters, pick a goal they want to reach (like raising enough to buy 300 bed nets), and then choose their own reward, like an ice cream or pizza party for the winning classroom.
When you involve them in the process, it becomes their own, and they LOVE this! And kids are so capable and creative. Their ideas are guaranteed to amaze and surprise you.
Serving in the local community with your kids through small volunteer projects (which abound everywhere) is a great antidote to consumerism.
After spending a day distributing meals to the homeless, it's far less likely that you'll be getting the plea to buy your kids anything new on the way home!
5. Let Them Struggle. Our children need to struggle to grow stronger. Allowing them to feel their own pain helps them feel the pain of others. This is the only way to learn compassion, which literally means, "to suffer together with."
What I want more than anything in the world is for my little boy to be happy. As I see life unveil itself to him, I've learned that he's going to have to manufacture his happiness from within. If he learns to turn the challenges he encounters into learning opportunities, he will develop the inner strength to carry him through life. This self-reliance will help him to be "happy for no reason."
As a mom, I often reference the story of the little boy and the butterfly. The little boy comes upon a chrysalis, a cocoon of a caterpillar ready to emerge into a butterfly. The boy watches the butterfly struggle to break free of its home. Taking pity on the butterfly, the boy removes the chrysalis for the butterfly. The butterfly spreads its beautiful wings a few times and then, unable to fly, lays down and dies.
The butterfly needed to struggle out of its shell to gain the strength to fly and live.
The Buddha said, "Compassion is that which makes the heart of the good move at the pain of others. It crushes and destroys the pain of others." Your child's heart already inherently knows this, and all you have to do is guide him or her along the way to ensure they are clear about what it looks and feels like to be a globally conscious human being.