The last page of a Sesame Street book shows Cookie Monster and Elmo splitting a snack and telling us, “Sharing is caring.”
It has become a line often repeated in our home as we teach our three-year-old son, Miles, about the importance of helping friends and sharing our luck with strangers.
It’s not an easy lesson to teach to a toddler. Those first times that our kids share a toy with a friend without being prompted make our hearts melt. Then, within hours, we’re horrified to see them stubbornly hoard possessions without letting friends have a turn.
Even more challenging might be teaching our kids to help people they don’t know — a lesson that even us grownups need on a regular basis.
I have been impressed and thankful for the efforts my wife, Nicole, has made to teach Miles about the importance of keeping an eye out for others.
Two examples immediately come to mind. The city turned a local arena into a respite centre to help people access social services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our community welcomed visitors who needed help, and in the winter, that meant collecting warm clothes during a brutally frigid winter for people to use.
Nicole sat on the floor of our living room with Miles one night about a week before last Christmas assembling bags with warm clothes to drop off at the respite centre. Miles decorated the bags with stickers and helped his mom stuff the sacks with mittens and toques. Neighbours and their kids also assembled bags of warm clothes for the respite centre, creating a community effort to help the visitors to our neighbourhood.
One day, Nicole and Miles stopped at the area donut shop and walked away with a boxful of pastries which they distributed to folks sitting on the sidewalk outside stores. It was such a small thing to do, but the lesson was so important for our son.
Living near downtown means there are daily reminders of the social disparity in our city. Our local main street provides a daily reminder that people need help, not only from social service agencies, but also from strangers.
There are other ways to help teach our kids about caring for people without buying things. Sometimes it just means saying hi to a passerby on the sidewalk, or stopping for a few seconds to share a few friendly words.
Or, it might be simply teaching our children to be good citizens.
One thing I hate is litter, especially in parks where kids are always exploring strange objects left in the grass. It’s one of the most disrespectful, lazy acts that communities endure.
I try to teach Miles about the importance of putting garbage in the bins at the park, and sometimes we’ll even toss in litter that we’ve carefully collected. “Why would people just dump their wrappers in the grass like that?” I’d say to Miles, who, to my gratification, is often equally dumbfounded.
But when it comes to directly helping people who don’t have the same privileges we enjoy, I struggle to explain to Miles why some folks don’t have homes, or why they’re hungry, or why they don’t have enough warm clothes in the winter.
How can kids at such a young age understand these issues in our society, and how do we as parents sensitively explain to our kids the inequities in our own community? We’ll keep challenging ourselves as a family to have the backs of strangers who need our help. After all, sharing is caring.