Unwrapping Compassion–Part 2
Today we are sharing the second half of an excerpt from the new book by Tina Houser, “Unwrapping the Servant: Teaching Kids to Serve Jesus and Others,” in which Tina shares how we can start teaching kids about compassion and help them begin to become aware of the needs around them.
In case you missed it, be sure to go back and read Unwrapping Compassion – Part 1.
See the person face-to-face.
Whenever possible, kids need to see the person they are helping face-to-face or at least get an idea of what they look like. This can be through the use of a photo or in a video.
Set up a Compassion Corner at home or in a classroom. Choose a person who is in need—recovering from surgery, just lost a spouse, deployed in the service, lost a job, etc. Set that person’s picture on the worktable, along with a description of what his/her situation is. Talk about why the person needs encouragement. What is it he can’t do for himself? How could we help? Provide all kinds of craft supplies so the kids can make individual cards for this person. Encourage them to say more than “Get well soon.” Think about what you would want someone to say to you. The words you share are extremely important and will be read over and over. Then, put all the cards in a large manila envelope and send them to the person immediately.
We found that once the person got well, he wanted to reward the kids with treats. This changed the attitude of the kids, so we asked the recipients to receive our gift without reciprocating.
The easiest people to show compassion to are the people who are closest to us—our family and close friends. It’s really hard to watch those we love dearly go through a difficult, painful time in their lives. It’s not quite as easy to show compassion for someone we don’t know or understand … or maybe don’t like. Have kids think about this for a while. Should we serve people who actually hurt us at one time—can we muster up any compassion for them? If the kids have ever experienced a situation like this, it’s best to talk about it without a specific needy person in mind. Once the child connects with the situation and the need, then introduce who the person to be served is. It’s difficult to turn a needy person away once kids have agreed and felt the need.
Make praying a priority.
Pray for the person as part of the overall servanthood and compassion experience … not just as something you do when all else fails or you can’t think of what to do.
Track the times when you pray for a specific person with something fun that can then be given to the person.
For example, use hot glue to adhere some snack-size candy bars to shish kebob sticks. Each time you pray for that person, add another candy bar flower to a vase. Once you have the vase full, take it to the person. Who could help but be encouraged by a bouquet of candy!
Debrief after every opportunity to serve.
It is imperative that you talk about the servanthood experience immediately following its completion. This helps kids process their feelings and gives them insight into a future plan of action.
Ask these questions:
- Describe what you/we did.
- How did it make you feel to help in that way? Uncomfortable? Happy?
- Why did the person need our help?
- Will that person need help again?
- What caused the problem that meant he/she needed help?
Notice that only one of these questions was a yes/no question. Encourage kids to use descriptive words and develop vocabulary.
Set a regular time each week or month, so the kids know when you’re going to work on a project. They will anticipate the appointment and excitedly talk about their chance to do such-and-such at a particular time.
Developing compassion is akin to developing muscle strength. The more you use your muscles, the stronger they get. When you’re going to “exercise” your compassion muscles, recognize it—especially with preschoolers. Teach them the day of the week when you have a regular service project. Preschoolers will come to know Wednesday (or any day you choose) as the day we help somebody. How cool is that!
You also want to be spontaneous about serving, but that comes after a child has had a shift in mindset. If you’re not intentional, you’ll find that all through life the opportunities slip away. They get taken off the To-Do list. If you’ve set aside a time and have a plan, it’s much more difficult to dismiss serving. Be intentional about things that matter…and serving others matters.
When you help kids see that God desires them to serve others, the result will be stories like this one:
The man who had constructed the set for the children’s musical was now in the hospital. Having been in many of the children’s musicals, fourteen-year-old Bradley knew there was a tremendous amount of behind-the-scenes work to be done—work that doesn’t get recognized, but is extremely important nevertheless. He pulled me aside after the musical was over and asked how I intended to get the set taken down. I admitted to him that it was going to be a problem, and I’d have to figure it out by the following day. Bradley said he would speak to his father, but he was sure the two of them could take care of everything. In less than 10 minutes, he returned, asking for specific instructions and assuring me that I didn’t have to be concerned about the task any longer. This young man understood the meaning of servanthood and by acting on his understanding became an example to everyone around him.
There are even more teaching tips, suggested activities, and a six-week lesson plan to help lay the foundation for kids to develop a servant’s heart in “Unwrapping the Servant: Teaching Kids to Serve God and Others.”
About the Author
After 32 years in children’s ministry within the local church, Tina is now the senior publications director for KidzMatter and executive editor of KidzMatter Magazine where she oversees the content of the magazine and develops curriculum products. She absolutely loves being able to train volunteers and professionals who have a heart for seeing kids become disciples of Jesus, whether that is through writing curriculum, writing idea books for Warner Press, or being able to speak at conferences. Check out what’s happening with Tina at www.tinahouser.net or read her blog at tinapoint.blogspot.com.
“Unwrapping the Servant” Copyright ©2015 Tina Houser.