“I just didn’t think about it.” That’s often the response you hear from hero bystanders who put themselves in harms’ way to save others, even strangers. They react instantaneously on instinct, because to help another soul in peril is a natural part of them. It’s who they are, not something that they have to think about doing. But were they born that way? Some, maybe. But more than likely it’s their experiences in life, the examples of people close to them, and the environment that they grew up in that allowed this instinct to be woven into their psyche and their character.
I don’t think of myself as a hero bystander, but I do think of myself as a “first responder”. That’s what I have told my children when they ask me why I willing stand up for people in situations that have nothing to do with me necessarily. I tell them that I would want someone to do the same for me and my children. I believe that you don’t just do the right thing when it directly affects you, you do the right thing because it is the RIGHT thing to do. It’s not always easy, it can sometimes be frightening, but for me I don’t really feel as though I have a choice.
I have consciously tried to raise my children to be first responders. Obviously I am leading by example, but I have engaged in other instinct building activities over the course of their childhood to help foster first responder senses. Recently my daughter called to tell me that she was going to be late getting home because she had to wait to talk to the police about an accident she witnessed. Turns out she didn’t just witness the accident she ran over immediately to give aid to the victims. We would like to think that our children will grow up with compassion, and they probably will. But compassionate action is something that needs to be encouraged through example, positive reinforcement and discussion. Here are 8 things that I have done to encourage a hero bystander and first responder attitude in my kids.
Talk to your kids about your own instincts to help others. Tell them about situations that presented themselves, what your instincts were, when you acted on them, when you didn’t, and how it made you feel in both instances. Be honest. No one has to be a HERO all of the time. Everyone gets afraid.
After you talk openly about your personal experiences make sure to give your child a chance to share theirs. Listen intently to what they say, and especially what they don’t.
Play observation games like I spy. Encourage your kids to “read the rooms” that they enter, making note of their environment. Bearing witness to life, taking notice of others, is how first responders find themselves in a position to act.
Live compassionately for people, places, things and animals. Do you pick up trash just because it should be done? Do you warn someone of a parking restriction before they walk away? Do you call 311 if you see a stray dog on the road? Your children are always watching you, (even when it seems they are never listening to you). Show them how easy it is to do something instead of standing by and doing nothing.
I saw a police officer once stop and park his car in order to get out and help walk a senior citizen home during one of our brutal, windy Chicago days. The man was struggling in earnest against the wind. The Police officer had passed him on the road but turned around and came back to help. I told the story to my kids when I picked them up because it made a strong impression on me. It’s important to celebrate and support acts of goodwill that we witness no matter the size. Say if your child makes an effort to include another child who is being left out, let them know later you noticed and that it made you proud. It doesn’t have to be a big party, just a pat on the back to let them know they did good.
Discuss and define morality with your child. What do you believe in? What do they believe in? Where do each of you draw support from for your beliefs. What does humanity mean to both of you? This is the kind of conversation that doesn’t happen once. You lay the foundation for it early and keep revisiting it as your children mature.
Identify mistakes and discuss alternative actions. Face it we all make mistakes personally and there are plenty of mistakes demonstrated on television and in life choices of others. Play a little “What If?” game and consider what the alternative actions and outcomes might have been. There is never really one solution to a problem. Critical thinking is a muscle that must be exercised.
Don’t negate your childs’ instincts. Reinforce their observations and their calls to action. When I was little I apparently counted the change that my mother received after making a purchase at a store and recognized that she had received more than she should have. I hounded my mother to return and give the money back. We were in a hurry so going back would have made our situation worse, but to my mothers’ credit she went back and returned the money. The clerk was incredibly thankful, telling my mother that her own pay would have been docked if the drawer had been short. My mom still tells that story to this day and it makes me proud. I know in my heart that my mother’s constant compassionate example is what provided me the impetus to right that wrong. And as harried as my Mom was that day she still encouraged me to count the change and speak up with what I found. Encouragement is empowering.
Remember, if you find the hero in you and your children will find it too.
If you enjoyed this post please read other Miss Lori parenting posts such as 10 Things Parents Should Never Share About Their Kids Online, Telling Kids The Truth About Standing Up For Yourself, If Miss Lori Does Not Fear Math Neither Will Her Kids, and 7 Things Parents Should Know About Heroin.
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