Two encounters this spring opened my eyes to a reality that I had not anticipated.
At a Denver bookstore, a six-year-old girl came over to my table wanting to know who I was and why I was there. I asked her if she ever did things that made a difference for other people. She said, Yes. I followed up with, “What do you do?” She said, “I pray.” Not the answer I expected.
I was stunned by her familiarity with the concept of helping people. A few moments later, her mother and ten-year-old sister came over to my table. In this family, helping others was an important part of their family culture.
The following week, I was in a different bookstore signing books, and a mother and her eight-year-old son came over to my table. After describing the Circle of Impact to them, I ask him if he would like a book that would help him make a difference in the lives of other people. He proceeded to describe what that book should be like.
It is clear to me that children are already in tune with the idea that they can make a difference in people’s lives. This raises the question for parents of how to talk with their children about being persons of impact.
The First Step Towards Understanding
Utilizing the Circle of Impact model, I established three questions that would lead me to better understand how to talk to children about being persons of impact.
Question 1: What questions do children have about making a difference in peoples’ lives?
The only way to know is to ask them. Have direct conversations with them. During one of my trips to Denver, I decided at the last minute to attend a Colorado Rockies baseball game. My seat was next to an eighth-grade girl who talked my ear off about what kids her age do and want to know.
If you are willing, you can learn a lot by listening to kids.
Question 2: What ideas do they need to know about making a difference in peoples’ lives?
As I researched this post’s question, I went to a neighborhood bookstore. I wanted to know about children’s literature, and especially about books that encouraged children to contribute to their community. I found books that sensitize children to the needs of people in need. I also found books for children filled with adult terminology. These books read like propaganda.
As I have traveled, I have also asked school teachers if their students are acquainted with the idea of being persons of impact. Having been involved for the past dozen years with an organization that supports the social entrepreneurial efforts of children, I also wanted to know what schools are doing in this regard. I have found one school in Rigby, Idaho that is teaching entrepreneur skills to elementary age children. These are the types of skills that can help children find the confidence and direction to know how to make a difference in the lives of people.
Question 3: What is the best way to communicate these ideas in such a way that children can make their own decisions about how to make a difference in peoples’ lives?
This question is largely a parental responsibility. They need to have regular conversations with their children about identifying situations where they can help. As families, they can participate in programs where the care of people is done.
In our family, we volunteered at a local children’s home. I am now on the board of directors for the home. We volunteered in local programs related to hunger, homelessness, and the isolation that many older adults feel in care homes. In other words, we did things to address local community needs. Then we’d talk about the experience.
The Second Step Towards Engagement
Talking with your children about how to be persons of impact is best done in the midst of doing. We, adults, have the tendency to want to talk about doing things as if it is the same thing. It isn’t.
For the two families of children with whom I had conversations, we talked about how it is best to begin small. It may be as simple a task as offering to rake leaves for an elderly neighbor or participating in a local food drive for the hungry.
The experience provides the opportunity for conversation with a child. A conversation is not a lecture by the adult to the child. It rather a discussion of what each of you sees in the situation. When the parent sets up the situation as a learning opportunity, the child learns how to look at situations to understand, rather than adopting a preconceived idea about what is taking place.
The Third Step Towards Impact
My experience is that children are very capable at identifying the needs and conflicts in situations. The messiness of the world is on full display to them every day. The question that is worth considering is, where do they want to make a difference?
Learning to be a person of impact is not a straight-forward, by the-book-process. This is especially true if we are seeking to help children gain an understanding for how they can make a difference that matters.
Think of this process as a series of experiments. Each experience is a learning one. We discover that an area we thought we wanted to make an impact in is not really available to us. We try again in another area, then another, and over time, we learn both where we want to make a difference, and especially, what we have to contribute.
What To Talk About With Your Children
Lastly, it is important that we talk about why it is important to make a difference that matters. This conversation is the on-going one that will last throughout our lives. The three young people that I spoke with at the bookstores and the young middle schooler at the ball game are already thinking and talking about the difference they can make.
The best place to begin this conversation is to share your own reasons – your Why – for seeking to be a person of impact. As difficult as it may seem, share your story as if you are speaking to another adult, being careful about overly abstract or graphic descriptions of your experience. What you are doing in sharing your story is showing your children how to form their own story and share it with others.
Learning to talk with your children about being persons of impact will have an impact upon your relationships for the rest of your lives. It will provide a platform for understanding that transcends the transitions that we all go through in life. And it will leave a legacy of impact that can be passed down through future generations.