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Five Ways to Raise Globally Conscious Kids

Be the Change You Wish to See in Your World

by Vivian Glyck

As the mother of a six-year-old boy and the founder of Just Like My Child Foundation, an international organization that saves the lives of thousands of kids in Uganda, East Africa, I am constantly thinking of how to move kids from “me” to “we.”

So many parents, grandparents, teachers, counselors I meet are caught in this war over a child’s soul: the material world beckons constantly with more empty temptation. Yet every day we are confronted with the need to “Be The Change” ourselves and serve a world lacking in resources.

Material consumption threatens to devour our kids, just like it’s devoured our economy. We all have an aching need to fulfill ourselves. I just worry that kids are learning to fill themselves with more stuff (clothes, gadgets, food, drugs, sex). Without guidance, this just makes the need inside bigger rather than smaller.

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?

After raising a child and working with hundreds of kids, I have learned a few things. Here are the two big ones: The most important things I can teach are 1) compassion, and 2) the will to struggle through any challenge. The artist Jewel’s words constantly ring in my head, “In the end, only kindness matters.”

After eight trips to Africa and running a non-profit enterprise that has saved the lives of thousands of mothers and kids, 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 yourself: “What do I feel passionately about? What are my child’s or the kids around me 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.

Hint: Even if they don’t want to pay attention and are distracted, don’t be fooled. They are paying attention. Your heart will open theirs. And you’ll know how to best expose them to difficult topics (like death and disease). While we want to protect our kids, remember, life is hard. They’ll figure that out soon enough. Better to have you there to explain things to them.

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 then we imagine. Try to focus their innate 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 who have not yet been mentally trained to exclude others who may be like them.

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 “one-ness” – we are all in this together. We are the family of man. The kids on the other side of the world are just like them; the earth is our home. We can all be part of a collective community and caring for each other with compassion has no concern for borders, skin types or belief systems. We must be the change we wish to see in the world and this is a grand opportunity to encourage our children to think in this manner of global awareness and empowerment.

3) Make it Interesting

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 a school and teach a curriculum on kids in Africa, really underscoring how similar we all are. Then we teach a bit about malaria and how a simple $10 insecticide-treated bed net can save up to three lives.

We then open up the presentation to questions. 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.

The point is: give them something to be interested in! I see how eager kids are to give and yet many sit on the precipice of material indulgence, not knowing how to express their expansive souls. Give them something that they can champion; something that will build their confidence in their own ability to make a difference.

4) Get them Involved

One of the best ways to really 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.

Time, money, interest, involvement, volunteering – these are all ways to “invest” in a cause we feel passionately about. When I was younger, the urge to make a difference was so strong in me. For several months, I served dinner at a woman’s homeless shelter. It required just an hour a week, but it got me outside of my head. Serving in the local community with your kids through small volunteer projects (which abound everywhere) are 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!

Another example is my son and I make applesauce every year from the apple tree in our front yard and sell it in front of his school. Just Like My Child Foundation gets 50% and he gets 50% to go into his bank account (okay, I do let him get a toy, but he ultimately makes the decision to give away the vast majority).

He sees that he can do well by doing good. It’s the ultimate social venture!

5) Let Them Struggle

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. In the story, 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 live and fly.

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.”

You know what to let your kids struggle with and what to help them with. Be on the look out for great “learning” opportunities, encourage them to figure it out themselves, and then ask them what they learned. You’ll be surprised at the answers!

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 like and feels like to be a globally conscious human being.

Vivian Glyck is the founder and executive director of www.JustLikeMyChild.org

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