A few months ago, I was lifting a watermelon from the trunk of our minivan when our twelve-year-old neighbor called out, "Hi Miss April! Do you need some help carrying in your groceries?"
"Sure!" I responded. It's not easy to unload the car with a two-year-old running loose, and I welcomed the help. Within minutes, my kitchen counters were loaded with crackers, milk, salad dressing--you name it--and my cute neighbor headed back to her house.
"Wow," I thought, "Would my children have offered to help someone like that?" I'd like to think so, but to be quite honest, unless children are taught to see need, it isn't always a natural thing. As I've spoken with a variety of mothers at our Power of Moms Retreats, it's become clear that we all want our children to be "that" person--the one who's quick to act when a service opportunity presents itself.
Here's a three-step process that has worked wonders in our home:
Step 1: When you're standing in the middle of a pigsty, give your children the chance to identify what the room needs.
I have a little dry-erase board hanging in my kitchen that makes this into a fun activity. The children gather by the board, and I ask, "What do we need to do to make our house feel clean?" Everyone looks around and starts listing things:
- Wipe the banister
- Pick up the toys
- Vacuum the carpet, etc.
This has been a wonderful way for us to work together--not every single day, but maybe once a week.
Step 2: Offer "Seeing Need" Points when your children take initiative.
I don't always want to be the one dishing out the jobs, so I told my children that if they independently see and act on a need, they can earn special points (one point for taking out the trash, two points for cleaning up a bathroom...they tell me what they did and then we decide on a fair point value). We then track the points on the dry erase board.
Sometimes I'll purposely leave out some grocery sacks (minus the refrigerated stuff)...just to see if anyone will notice.
Step 3: Offer rewards that don't cost a thing.
I think it's important for children to help out around the house simply because they're part of the family. They don't need to be paid for every little chore, wouldn't you agree? We brainstormed a list of basically-free items that can be "purchased" with the Seeing Need points. Here are a few:
- 10 Points = 10 Minutes of "screen time"
- 15 Points = A can of soda
- 35 Points = King or Queen for a day
- 100 Points = Pizza-making party with friends
One afternoon, my son asked if I needed a shoulder massage (which I always do). Afterward, he brought me a little cup of water, just in case I was thirsty. SO sweet.
My daughter earned some points in her church class (they can earn points outside the home). Her teacher was giving a lesson about service, so she intentionally dropped some crayons on the floor to see if any of the students would pick them up. My daughter said, "Mom, I saw that there was a need, and I was the first one down on the floor to clean up the mess."
My other daughter put away all her brother's laundry because she saw the full basket in his room. Another day, she cleaned up a pack of cards at the library that had spilled all over the floor. To see the look on their faces when they see a need is amazing, and really, the points aren't the main motivation. They're just "extra."
This isn't a fool-proof method. My house still gets messy, my children "forget" to pick up after themselves, and often they'd rather play basketball or read a book instead of earning Seeing Need Points, but I think this process is laying the foundation for important life lessons. Someday, if you're my neighbor, I hope my children will be the ones to say, "Can we give you a hand with those groceries?"
Do you have any experiences or tips for helping children see need?