"Mommy, I'm going to go do some service at [the neighbor's]." This is the magical phrase I heard from Brayden (4.5) two days ago. We were out shoveling snow in our driveway (already service to Daddy since he had surgery on his foot and couldn't do it). He decided to go shovel the neighbor's driveway, as well.
How do we teach our children to love service? How do we teach them to love any positive attribute? On Becoming Preschoolwise has a great idea (starting on page 185). Basically, you make a chart that includes positive attributes you want to see your preschooler develop (faithfulness, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control, etc.). Each time you see your child display one of these attributes, you point it out. You tell your child what happened and how it relates to this virtue. You then have your child put a sticker on the chart. For some, this might be enough of a reward. For others, you can have a special treat for every 10 stickers.
What does this activity do? How does it help? For one thing, it forces you, the parent, to focus on the positive. This takes us back to looking to ourselves and changing our behavior. Instead of chiding our child for every misstep, we will be acknowledging the many good things our child does throughout the day.
Another good thing is that the child feels happy when he does something right, and he knows that you recognize more than his mistakes. This happiness will encourage him to try to do right things more often.
Another thing it does is help your child recognize what is good behavior. By you explaining what he did and how that displayed a certain virtue, he will come to understand the meaning of that virtue better.
I am sure some of you out there are feeling skeptical at this point. You might be thinking, "I want my child to be kind because it is what he should do, not because he gets a sticker for it." Yes, that is true. That is what you want. But you have to work up to it. Your child is moving from believing the world revolves around him and not understanding morals to realizing other people have feelings and that there are moral standards.
This activity helps teach your child what the moral standards are, and it gives him motivation to practice it. The first step before you can have a change of heart is to try. For an adult, perhaps we can try just because we know we should. But for a child, extra motivation might be needed. As you get your child excited about, understanding of, and in the habit of doing the right thing, he will start to do it because it is who he is. He will do it because he loves, not because he gets a sticker.
This month, we have been doing the Straw Bed For Jesus activity I described on the Children's Learning Activities Blog. When we first started, the children were excited to think about the service they had done that day. Over the next few days, I would drop hints like, "That would be nice service if you went and helped Daddy with that right now." As the days have gone by, they have started to recognize opportunities themselves and have sought them out. They are starting to love service (one note, this is much more true for Brayden than for Kaitlyn, who is 2.5).
Hopefully I have convinced you. If not, just try it and see what happens :)
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