For Families: Inspire Everyday Acts of Caring with Family Routines
Guest post by Sarah Aadland, Director of Doing Good Together's Big-Hearted Families™ Program
Our daily routines define our lives. After all, we are what we do day after day.
Emerging research suggests that family routines support children’s social and emotional growth, the building blocks for strong "empathy muscles." Recently researchers evaluating more than 8,500 children found that kids in families that sing, tell stories, read, play, and eat dinner together are substantially more likely to have high social-emotional health.
If routines build empathy, then intentionally big-hearted routines prepare kids for a lifetime of generosity. Doing Good Together™ – a national nonprofit empowering families to raise caring kids – has compiled a few tips to add more compassion to your family routines.
While occasional volunteer projects in the community are wonderfully rewarding, everyday habits of kindness send a strong message to our children. Compassion matters. These habits will have residual effects for our children throughout their lives. They empower our kids to become thoughtful, engaged citizens and they impact our communities for generations to come.
Keep in mind, forming new habits is easiest when you’ve tucked your new behavior next to a reliable trigger. We’ve created a list of big-hearted family routines, pairing our favorite habits with the cues that have worked best for the families we’ve worked with over the years.
Don’t feel daunted by the complete list. You aren’t meant to tackle them all at once. Choose a couple that fit your family best. Stick with them, and see where they lead.
By adopting a few, well-timed habits, you may be surprised how easy it is to move from good intentions to positive actions.
Weave empathy throughout your daily routines with the tips below, or download our complete Menu of Big-Hearted Habits.
Over Breakfast: Launch the day with a sense of calm.
Adopt a brief mindfulness practice. Enjoying a minute of silence over breakfast or take five slow, deep breaths together while putting on shoes.
As they head out the door, give your children a compliment and remind them to give one to somebody else during the day.
In The Car: Make the most of your captive audience!
Print and carry our list of 29 conversation starters perfect for "big talks."
Have a few homeless care kits on hand for anyone you encounter who might need some food... and cheer. Talk to your children about the importance of lending a hand to those in need.
Before Dinner: Harness your children's energy for some team effort.
Chores are an important way to begin the conversation about contributing to the common good. Visit DGT’s newsletter on the importance of chores for practical ideas.
Depending on their ages, your kids can help make dinner by assembling ingredients, cracking eggs, or topping pizzas.
During Dinner: Chat about important issues.
Try one of DGT’s all time favorites: Each night, ask this question of every family member: "Who did you help today, and who helped you?"
Share good news! Stories about big-hearted kids or good deeds that make a difference can inspire your whole family.
At Bedtime: As your children wind down, take time for quiet togetherness.
Reading together is the perfect opportunity to snuggle, imagine, and ask big questions. Check out our collection of big-hearted books, but remember that any book can spark important conversations if you ask the right questions.
Invite everyone to list three joys from their day.
On a Day Off: Take on a family project.
Choose a simple, fun project that establishes a kindness routine. Some examples: decorate a box to sponsor a food shelf that you fill throughout the month; create a giving jar to teach charitable giving; decorate kindness cards to give out randomly; or visit our complete project collection for more ideas.
Work together to create a family mission statement. Setting goals can inspire your whole family to keep kindness on the priority list.
Of all the activities families do together in a lifetime, few return the same rewards as big-hearted family routines. Parents are able to really connect with their children while teaching them the important values of kindness and citizenship. And many parents believe these routines spark important conversations with their children, build stronger family bonds, and add meaning to their lives.
The less you isolate acts of kindness into their own once-in-a-while calendar slots, the more generosity simply becomes a way of life.
Bio: Sarah Aadland, MPP, is striving to make family volunteering a meaningful habit for her three animal-loving, social-justice-seeking, mud-pie-making kiddos. As Director of DGT's Big-Hearted Families™ Program, she creates resources for families that want to develop a kindness practice at home. For more than seven years, Sarah has watched family volunteering empower kids, connect families, and build stronger communities. In addition to raising her children, Sarah tends a large garden, a small flock of chickens, and a habit of mindfulness amid the necessary rituals of parenting.
Visit Doing Good Together™ – a national nonprofit empowering families to raise caring kids – for more tools to practice kindness and make a difference with your family.