As a parent I believe we begin instilling values in our children in our earliest communications. It starts with the first songs we sing, to the stories we read at bedtime, and the life lessons we try to teach throughout their teen and adult years. Our children learn from our family choices of where we go, who we spend time with, and how we interact with the people in our community. The actions we take in our everyday lives shape the way our children see their role within the family and the world around them. As our children spend more time interacting with people outside the home through school, sports, and other activities, they start making their own choices of how to act. Whether they are conscious of it or not, making these choices is part of their transformation from child to citizen. Every step, big or small, on their path to independence is an opportunity to contribute to and influence the world around them.
How we act in our home is an important foundation for kids to learn values. We set examples by modeling the behaviors and ideals we feel are important: how and what we talk about, the books we read, household rules, and holiday and other traditions we celebrate are just some of the ways we teach our children what we value most and how we relate to the world.
I believe that a child’s family and the larger community he or she grows up in, and the institutions of that place, shape that child’s desire to contribute to his or her community, a child’s belief in the value of being community minded, and finally, the belief that our actions have an impact on the world around us. “Grown-ups”–parents, friends, neighbors, educators, community service providers, librarians, coaches—can connect and share stories and resources on the “how to” and the value of being a young community-minded citizen.
Taking a holistic approach recognizes the importance of our shared experiences, everyday actions and the connections we make with our sense of place, shared history, and an eye to the future. If we want the next generation of thinkers and doers to be mindful of their sense of place, and be active shapers and creators in their world, we need to come together as a community to share our ideas and best practices right from the beginning.
I know I want to a live in world were people care about their neighbors, their schools, their parks and the community at large. I believe if I want to pass on this sense of social responsibility to my own children I need to look inward first and recognize that the words I say and my actions or lack of action are powerful teaching tools.
In answer to the question, “How do I raise community-minded kids?” I believe the answer is “It takes a village.” And as a parent I believe I am an integral part of the village. Together, I hope we can impact real change in the world.