10 Steps to Help Your Kids Become Everyday-Heroes-In-Training
Over the last three decades, I have worked with children who have been arrested and charged as juvenile delinquents; with kids children traumatized by hurricanes, floods, and wildfires; and with children stressed by mind-numbing poverty in the wealthiest country in the history of the world.
But in my 33 years of working with children and their parents and caregivers, I have never seen the level of stress for both groups that I see today.
The statistics are alarming: 27 percent of parents reported worsening mental health for themselves, and 14% reported worsening behavioral health for their children.
According to a recent CDC report, children ages 5 to 11 made emergency room visits related to mental health about 24 percent more than last year; visits from children ages 12 to 17 increased 31 percent.
Combine the mental health stress with education stress—a recent McKinsey report found that, on average, students from kindergarten to fifth grade have missed out on 20 percent of the reading and 33 percent of the math skills they would have learned in normal times—and the result is a national crisis.
Dealing with this level of stress requires resiliency—that sense of inner strength gives a person the capacity to recover from difficulties and bounce back.
What can parents, caregivers, teachers, and others do to build resilient kids and help them cope with stress—and perhaps become more resilient, too?
One idea to build children’s resiliency is through what I like to call an “everyday-hero training program.” What does this mean?
The general idea is to get children involved in their own homes and communities by helping the people around them—and to help kids see, during and after the experience, that they have the ability to do the following:
- Follow through and feel empowered.
- Take their mind off their troubles by discovering happiness in simple activities.
- Find joy in helping others.
These valuable experiences become natural stress relievers, chock-full of teachable moments to help a child discover their own inner strength. Heroes are strong—and resilient. Everyday heroes are, too.
Case in point: The Internet was recently buzzing with the story of a 10-year-old Rhode Island boy and his mom’s friend who went to their local hospital during a snowstorm and cleaned the snow off the cars of doctors, nurses, and essential workers.
When asked how he came up with the idea, the 10-year-old said, “I was thinking they’ve been helping us a lot through this whole pandemic, and I figured why don’t we help them, you know? All day, every day the nurses here, they deal with the pandemic… and they want to get home from work, so we thought we would make it a tiny bit easier for them by cleaning off their cars for them.”
The friend added, “It sucked. I hate the snow, but being out here with him because this is what he’s passionate about, I did it because he wanted to do it. It’s a good feeling.”
The two cleared off over 80 cars. Some of the essential workers offered them money for their good deed; they turned it down.
What resilience these good Samaritans displayed as they cleaned all those cars! If they can endure the elements to perform this act of service for that many people, then they are well equipped to deal with other stress that comes their way.
Beyond developing a nation of hero-helpers from an early age, promoting acts of service can give children a sense of control, that they can do something to help. This sense of control also builds resiliency.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said that life’s “most persistent and urgent question (is)… ‘what are you doing for others?'”
More recently, Pope Francis said, “Loving actions change history: even the ones that are small, hidden, every day…There are so many hidden saints, who are next-door, who, with little acts of love, change history.”
Well, that 10-year-old boy answered Dr. King’s question and acknowledged the pope’s vision by doing something relatively “tiny,” by cleaning snow off cars. He inspired his mom’s friend to join him, and he has inspired many beyond the people whose cars were caked in snow. He encourages all of us to give a little of our time to the people around us.
So, what are some other small acts of kindness that our everyday-heroes-in-training can do right now, ones that provide us with teachable moments and conversation starters about resiliency? Here are just a few:
- Help a sibling learn to tie his or her shoe or learn to read.
- Help Mom or Dad fold laundry or make dinner.
- Write letters to grandparents, service members, residents of nursing homes, or homebound individuals who need inspiration and support.
- Set up a Zoom piano or guitar performance for people in a local nursing home.
- Put together bags of supplies for the homeless (socks, toothbrush, granola bar, etc.).
- Pack a basket of goodies and bottles of water to leave on the porch as a thank you for delivery people.
- Help carry a neighbor’s groceries or shovel snow from their steps.
- Be a kind listener to a friend in need.
- Create a sock puppet show for your family or friends to help them laugh.
- Read a book to Mom or Dad—or a friend—in person or via Zoom.
Tiny actions can be powerful. Think of how a small aspirin can relieve a headache or even prevent a heart attack. Tiny acts of kindness are equally transformative.
If we celebrate “little acts of love” that build strength in our children—that help them build knowledge and skills to call upon in times of stress—they will be transformed, and we adults just might be transformed, too!