Teaching Our Kids About Serving Others — Mommy Daze

If it’s one thing all children are, it’s selfish. Even the kindest, most generous of toddlers will at some point act on a self-serving impulse. I remember reading once that you don’t have to teach children to hate or be self-centered, it comes naturally. What we as parents strive to teach is how NOT to be that way.

rsz teaching kids to serve 02Now that our boys, ages 6 and 4, are old enough to really grasp this concept, we’ve started implementing ways to teach them to serve others in hopes of combating selfishness. My husband came up with the idea of being Kindness Ninjas. As a Kindness Ninja, we do random acts of kindness for others, preferably without them knowing it. They love playing Ninjas and being sneaky, so this was right up their alley. Each night at dinner we all share how we were able to be a Kindness Ninja that day. This has proven to be a great exercise for all of us!

One morning, this lesson was really driven home for my oldest son. He had thoughtfully and creatively made his younger brother breakfast, arranging the food on his plate to look like a silly face. While excitedly awaiting his brother’s arrival from upstairs, he said to me “I can’t wait to tell Luke that I made his breakfast for him!” I gently remined him that being a Kindness Ninja meant doing something nice in a sneaky way so that other people don’t know it was you. You could see the struggle for him when his brother came down to breakfast. But I was proud of him for staying quiet and just watching his brother’s enjoyment over the funny face food.

To take this lesson a step further, our family signed up to attend a local missions trip through our church. A small group of us were going to join a bigger group called ‘Builders for God’ and attend their week-long service project at a campground in Pennsylvania called Pocono Plateau Camp & Retreat. According to their Facebook Group description, “Builders for God is a ministry which provides Christian organizations with the manpower to accomplish a variety of projects in a short period of time. Any willing person can join the group, which consists of men, women, and children of various ages and abilities. They provide a wonderful opportunity for people to be involved in missions but cannot be full-time.” The organization is somewhat like Habitat for Humanity, but with a Christian foundation and based only in the Pennsylvania and DELMARVA areas.

We prepared the kids for what this trip was going to be like. They attended the planning meeting at our church and got to hear the director sharing the purpose of the trip: to voluntarily serve others with our gifts, talents, time and love. We would be staying in a lodge at the campground, have all our meals provided for by the camp staff (who would be there training that week for their upcoming summer season), and then have evenings free to do fun activities such as hiking, boating on the lake, campfires, and more. The boys were ecstatic!

It was a long drive to the Poconos, so we arrived late in the day on Monday. There were already lots of different service projects underway at the camp, including roofing, painting, repairs at cabins, and much more. My husband immediately jumped in with some siding work and demolition of a bathroom. The kids and I wandered the camp getting to meet everyone. Right away they were welcomed in to a group of various aged children playing in a ‘GaGa Pit’, a game my kids had never played before. I sat my tired, pregnant-self down in the shade and watched as my kids immediately bonded with these other children while learning to play a new game. Multiple women came up to me and thanked me for coming and bringing my children. Some told me stories of their first time doing this trip, some of which were 20 years ago, and how they too were either pregnant or toting a baby along. And now those ‘babies’ were here as teenagers or adults, joyfully working alongside their parents. The women assured me that even though I may feel like there wasn’t much I could help with, just being there and allowing my kids to be a part of such meaningful service work, was helping enough.

That evening the kids had a blast going out in a rowboat with their Dad on the lake and running around with the other kids. The next day they were put to work helping dig a trench down by the water for a floating dock that was being constructed. They had a blast tossing the chunks of rock into the lake and working alongside their Dad and new friends. Again, I felt a little helpless, but tried to keep busy applying sunscreen to my boys, bringing snacks and water, and taking pictures. But I was reminded of the wise words of the women who had been going for years and just savored the time with my family.

We couldn’t stay the whole week unfortunately, and the kids were devastated the night we had to leave. They gave lots of hugs and enthusiastically talked about going again next year. I’ve noticed since coming home that they are much quicker to help out and open to trying new things. And here I thought we were going on this trip to help others when it was actually a blessing to us! Funny how that works.

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Mandy Watts is a stay-at-home mom who lives in Crownsville with her husband, Justin, who runs their family business, and their two sons, 5-year-old James and 3-year-old Luke.