The first time I came in contact with a third world country I was fourteen years old, an only child, and growing up in a sheltered home while being home schooled. Until that point in my life, the furthest I had traveled was back and forth from Kentucky to Florida visiting family.
My parents raised me with a great work ethic, loads of ambition, and a strong moral code. I knew I had it good (because they never ceased to remind me), but like most American young people, I had no idea what the rest of the world was like.
I ventured out on my first trip overseas to Jamaica. For most people when you think Jamaica you think resorts, vacation, a tropical paradise. What I encountered was poverty, drug abuse, and terminal illness. You see, when you drive about a mile away from the fancy tourist attractions, you begin seeing reality. During this trip my world shifted on it’s axis and I began to see life through another set of eyes. I was able to celebrate the native culture in all it’s vibrancy, and I was also able to connect with people who considered American youth like myself entitled, wealthy, and clueless.
That trip changed the course of my life as I opened up my eyes, and became more grateful for what I experienced as an American. It sparked a fire in me to explore new places and connect with other people from around the world, ultimately setting my career in motion down the road.
Today I have a pre-schooler. We live moderately, and in my opinion even humbly, yet more and more I realize just how rich our lives are. I look at my daughter who lacks for nothing and has everything she needs and wonder… How can I expand her worldview and teach her not to be an entitled, first world youth? How do I teach her to be grateful for what she has, and give back? It’s a deep and overwhelming task to take on along with the long list of other things to teach her, yet I feel it’s of critical importance.
Here are four easy philosophies we have incorporated into our daily lives to expand our daughter’s worldview.
- Attitude of Gratitude– It might sound simplistic, but I believe the foundation for teaching our daughter not to be entitled, and entirely self-centered is to teach her to be grateful. If you are grateful for everything you receive, you are less likely to take it for granted. For this reason we express what we are grateful for every night before bed. Make Thanksgiving Day every day (maybe sans cranberry sauce). Sienna is three, so right now she is grateful for her stuffed animals, and friends, and pizza. We take turns going around, so when it’s mom or dad’s turn we like to throw in some basics too, like running water, air conditioning, and our vehicles. Considering the majority of the earth’s population are considered “rich” if they have these, we think its important for her to know she should be grateful for them too.
- Compassion and Empathy– In our increasingly tech savvy age, it has become a challenge for our young people to simply connect with others on a personal level. It feels to me that the ability to relate, empathize, and feel compassionate are becoming more rare. It’s one thing to see people who have less than you on TV and feel for them. It’s another to look them in the eyes and stand beside them in their suffering and trials. It doesn’t matter if you live in the first world, or the third, people need compassion. In an effort to teach Sienna more compassion, we signed up with Compassion International to sponsor two children whom we invited Sienna to help us select. We have two girls around Sienna’s age whom she will now grow up writing to and learning about their lives in Brazil and India. For $38 a month you can provide a child in poverty with clean water, schooling, medical care, and education. I can’t tell you how moving it is to receive letters from our girls overseas. One brought me to tears as she commented on a family picture we sent over saying Sienna “looked like a little doll.” There are many ways to teach compassion, from volunteering at a local shelter , to giving presents to children in homes. These are just a few great examples.
- Be Generous– We all have the capacity to be generous, no matter how much or little you have. I’m constantly moved by the commitment to charitable organizations I see in our community. How then do I nurture this mentality in my pre-schooler? Here are a few ideas. At Christmas create a “giving tree.” For every gift under the “receiving tree” put one under the giving tree to give away. In my house, if Sienna complains about an item of clothing she doesn’t want to wear, we immediately give it to someone else who may need it (this teaches her to be grateful and not complain, and that she has more than enough to meet her needs). In many countries I’ve visited, those who in my opinion have so much less than I do, have routinely blessed me by providing me with their best. We also want to always teach Sienna to give her best.
- World View– How do I teach my three-year-old, who I can’t jet set across the world with every week, about other cultures? One great thing I’ve been trying is Little Passports. I’ll be writing a more lengthy blog on teaching kids about traveling on my site soon, but in summary Little Passports is a subscription-based company that makes learning about other countries fun. Every month fictional characters “Sofia and Sam” travel to a new destination domestically or abroad and send Sienna a letter, picture, and other items about where they visited. Sienna gets so excited to receive her letter every month. They sent a map of the world we put up on her wall and we will discuss where Sam and Sofia visited, fun facts about the countries and how far they are from us. We also can tie in our Compassion kids and talk about where they live and what their lives are like in their part of the world, making the experience that much more real.
Here are a few more ideas that others have mentioned to me that I love!
- Subscribe to Kid’s National Geographic
- Check out videos on you tube or the National Geographic channel about other cultures
- Establishing chores and methods of earning privileges or prizes help nurture a good work ethic and avoid entitled attitudes
- Support poverty alleviation through clean water with organizations like Water for All Nations– a great way to share with your kids how basic things like running water are needed across the world
- Encouraging your children to listen to Grandma and Grandpas stories about their experiences
- Get a passport.
- Visit Cultural Museums
- Support a youth going overseas on missions or volunteer trips. Between 14 and 19 my friends and family helped send me to Jamaica, Costa Rica, Brazil, Hong Kong, and China solidifying my passion for travel and building relationships overseas. It is also through these trips that the world begins to see what Americans are really like.
These are just a few of the ways you can support expanding your child’s worldview and teaching them about the lives of other civilizations throughout the globe. I know there are some other great ideas from all you fantastic families out there. Share with me some of your common practices and ideas.
It’s by starting these conversations that we grow, and learn more ways to train up our young citizens of the world. None of us are perfect, and its a work in progress, but if we do something every day I know we can make a difference.