How young is too young to expose children to social issues? Chances are that even very young children have already noticed something in the world around them that they would like to change - whether it's the park that's littered with rubbish, or the student who's being bullied at school.
If your child has sat next to you during the evening news, they've also seen images of global issues - hunger, conflict, poverty - that have startled them or sparked their concern. When confronted with such scenes, it's natural for children to want to help in some way, though many simply don't know where to begin.
At moments like these, we can either ignore the questions and change the channel, or help fuel their passion for a better world.
By helping your child engage with what's going on around them, you can nurture their instinct to lend a hand, whatever issue or cause they choose.
Choose your cause
As a first step, help your child identify the cause they notice most or care a lot about. Ask what they would change about their school or neighbourhood, what problem makes them angry or sad.
Here are some other ways to help spark their passion:
- Look through the newspapers for headlines, articles or photos that represent a global issue, and discuss it together. Let your child lead with their questions, fears and ideas. Make a list of points for further research.
- Take a family walk around the community to identify issues closer to home. Does your child notice homelessness and wonder why people live on the streets? What about litter strewn in parks?
- Check out what's trending on Twitter to learn what people are talking about locally and around the world.
Once your child has chosen a cause that they are passionate about, encourage them to learn more about it. If, for example, the cause you select is hunger in your community, help your child understand that there are many reasons why people fall into poverty and are forced to go hungry, including lack of access to housing, affordable and accessible child care, and full-time work that pays enough to live on.
There are great internet resources that will help you and your child learn more about these issues. You can also research the organisations that are working on your issue and find out how you can support their efforts.
For example, take your child with you to a food bank or a shelter and speak with the staff to get someone's firsthand experience. When your child is armed with knowledge, they'll be eager to challenge themselves to take action.
Take the challenge
Next, it's time to do something about the issue you've chosen. If your issue is hunger, your challenge could be as simple as handing out sandwiches to people in need in your community.
Or, you can join Free The Children's We Scare Hunger campaign, where young people collect tinned food to donate to their local food bank. This could be part of Harvest Festival celebrations or Halloween, or an ongoing effort on your child's part at any time of the year.
Look for actions that you can do as a family or team up with other families in your neighbourhood and your child's school.
Whatever the cause, encourage your child to find a way to engage with their local and global communities. They'll learn that even small, everyday actions can make a difference in someone's life.
With a little guidance, children will respond in a way that makes them feel less helpless and more hopeful about the world they live in, and feel empowered to be part of the solution.
Want to find more ways to connect as a family and give back? As an international charity and educational partner with an 18-year history of working with young people all over the world, Free The Children, among its many initiatives, provides educational resources for local and global issues to help you make a difference: From fun activities you can do at home to awareness and fundraising campaign. Visit www.freethechildren.com.
An initiative of Free The Children, We Day is a series of events that inspire and empower young people to be active local and global citizens. We Day UK makes its debut on 7 March at Wembley Arena.