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Helping Your Child Become a Responsible Citizen: Activities I (page 4)

— U.S. Department of Education
Updated on Feb 26, 2009

What to Do

    Children may have heard the saying that it is better to give than to receive, but it will mean little to them if they do not think about what they can give others to show that they care.
  • For the birthday or other special occasion of a relative or friend, encourage your child to make a gift instead of buying one. Help her decide what to give by asking her to think about the special talents she has. If she likes to sing or act, she might like to perform a special song or write and act out a skit or play. A young child might pick some flowers from the yard and take them to a neighbor. An older child might do chores for mom, dad or a neighbor. She might, for example, wash the dishes for a week, clean the hall closet, babysit or run errands.

  • If the gift is an activity or chore, have your child make a card and write a note, telling what the gift will be.

  • Teach your child to think of others by encouraging her to choose some of her toys or good clothing that she's outgrown to give to community drives for homeless or needy children. Encourage your older child to consider giving the gift of his time as a volunteer for various community charitable efforts. 

Children need to be shown and taught empathy--that other people have feelings, beliefs and hopes, just as they do. Actually, we can learn a great deal from others, both in our families and neighborhoods and from other cultures, societies, religions and countries.

What to Do

    Although we should teach our children to be tolerant and to behave espectfully toward other people, we should also make it clear that some people behave in ways that are harmful and that such behavior should not be tolerated.
  • Show your child by your actions that you are interested in learning about and from other people. Let her know that you care about family by telling her interesting things about relatives, such as their hobbies or jobs. Let her see you being a friend to neighbors, store clerks, community workers and others. Let her see you reading books or watching TV shows and videos about people from other cultures, religions or countries. Talk with her about the interesting things you've learned from your reading and viewing. Invite people from other cultures or countries to your home.

  • Visit the library with your child, and ask the librarian to help you choose books, videos, magazines and other materials that will help him learn about many different countries and people. Listen attentively when your child wants to tell you about things she has discovered about the geography, history, religion, music or art from other cultures and countries. 

As parents, we may need to set aside particular times or create special activities to teach our children certain things. But this isn't true when it comes to helping them learn about character. Everyday life is filled with opportunities for helping our children learn about the values we prize and want to encourage.

Rather than "things to do" with your child for half an hour once a week, most of the following activities are more like rules-of-thumb or ideas to build into your daily lives. Most illustrate several qualities of character and show that one quality often grows from another.

The activities can be adapted for children from early childhood through adolescence, and most contain specific suggestions for children of different ages and stages of development. You, as your child's first and most important teacher, are the best judge of which activities are most appropriate to use based on the emotional and social development of your child.

As you choose the activities to use with your child, remember this thought: Teaching our children about character doesn't mean that we can't laugh or that we have to be grim. Our children should see that we can be serious about our values and principles and still play and have fun. In fact, you can teach a lot through play. And you can make games out of learning particular skills. We hope that you and your child enjoy these activities and that they inspire you to think of additional activities of your own.

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