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How can I make my children care?
teaching sensitivity to others

On New Year’s Day, we welcome the new year and review the old. Once again, we watch images of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastating our country. Last August, the necessity of providing the corporal works of mercy was evident – we had to give concrete aid to our neighbors in their basic need. People were stranded and surrounded by water, yet thirsting. They were homeless, without food, without work. This generation of American children and adolescents began to understand the distinction between needs and wants in a solid and material way. How can we help them continue in this understanding?

“You shall open your hand to your brother ... ” (Deut. 15:11)
 Encourage children when they desire to show mercy toward others. For example, soon after Hurricane Katrina, 6-year-old Lauren Barrett received permission from her mother to have a lemonade stand and send the profits to the Red Cross. Her efforts were publicized on her local TV station in Kentucky. Other children were doing the same in other states. Sunkist Growers, a huge farm cooperative, set up a matching fund program. The participating farmers donated supplies for more stands. Children can understand that their efforts provide necessities to other families: food, water, shelter and clothing.

“I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content.” (Phil 4:11)
 “Do as I say, not as I do” just doesn’t work with children and adolescents. They are keen observers and note whether we “walk the talk.” Even adults can have trouble explaining some of their purchases. Are we content with the blessings in our lives? Do we stop to treasure those possessions which have a value measured by sentiment rather than dollars – an old baby photo, a quilt made generations ago? In my kitchen, I have a 60-year-old ceramic outlet cover from my grandma’s house. Its only value is the memory it sparks. Help your children define the things they treasure, not just what’s plugged in the world of advertising.

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Ps 37:4)

 Games and balls, pools and dolls can bring laughter and joy. Or they can sit unused or discarded after a week of ownership. Help your children determine which items are “desires of the heart” and which seem special because they were intriguing on a commercial or at a friend’s house. If purchases are based on envy, then happiness will not follow. Someone else will always have more. As St. Teresa of Avila said, “Comparing is the death of the spiritual life.” 

– Dr. Cathleen McGreal

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