Humanitarian is a big word with a complicated history. But for me, a humanitarian is simply a person who treats all people with sympathy and kindness, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, age, religion, ability, or nationality.
In Ryan Quinn and the Rebel’s Escape, 13-year-old Ryan’s father works for the real-life United Nations as well as a fictional version of the Emergency Rescue Committee doing humanitarian work around the globe. When the events of the book put Ryan in a position to help a stranger in need, he is empowered to do the right thing by the qualities his parents have imbued in him.
Over the years, I’ve tried to teach my son and daughter the same principles. Here are a few ideas that might help you pass along humanitarian ideals to your own kids.
1. Start Early & Start Small
It's never too early to start helping others. Kids may not understand (or be interested in!) politics and world issues, but they do understand things like bullying, people in need, and the difference between right and wrong. Even in small ways, kids can practice kindness through their actions like by helping an elderly neighbor carry in groceries or inviting all the kids in their class to a birthday party. Humanitarianism is a lifelong habit and can start with the smallest acts.
2. Make It Fun
Look for ways to connect with those in need through activities your kids already love. If they enjoy sports, maybe they could volunteer with the Special Olympics. If your child loves to read, programs like Reach Out and Read pair readers with hospital-bound children. Helping others doesn't have to be "work" – it can be fun and a natural extension of things your kids love to do anyway!
3. Engage the Tough Questions
Kids ask a lot questions, so it's good to embrace their natural curiosity. Sure, there will be issues you don’t want to get into specifics about. But whenever you can, try to validate their interest, not deflect it. Kids hear all sorts of things from friends and at school. If they ask about something you don’t know, look it up with them and research it together. You might learn something new yourself! A humanitarian is someone who doesn't accept the status quo at face value and asks questions.
4. Keep It Active
For parents with hectic schedules, it’s often easier to just do things ourselves than to supervise our kids’ involvement. Unfortunately, that makes our kids passive participants. But when doing humanitarian activities, look for ways to keep your kid actively engaged in the process. If you’re shopping for a holiday toy drive, have them pick out which toys to donate to other kids in need. It may be a little more work for you, but keeping your child actively engaged in the process will empower them to start thinking like a humanitarian on their own.
5. Lead By Example
As parents, our kids look to us as role models. That’s a lot of pressure, especially when we’re feeling stressed and frustrated. But nothing is more important for a child than seeing us show kindness and compassion in our everyday interactions. You can take your child to volunteer at a soup kitchen every weekend, but if you make a disparaging remark about the homeless man sleeping at Starbucks, that’s what they’ll remember. Raising a humanitarian means being one yourself – you are the most powerful influence on your kids’ lives!
What are some of the ways you show your kids how to be a humanitarian? Head over to the Ron McGee Facebook page and share your story.