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Just after my daughter’s third birthday, I met an elderly woman named Sarah and her grown son Scottie. Scottie was confined to a wheelchair. He had lost both of his legs due to spina bifida. I discovered that Scottie and Sarah had numerous emotional and financial needs so I rallied several friends through my church to help serve them.

One day I invited my daughter to join me in taking dinner to Scottie. “Mommy, why doesn’t Scottie have any feet? How does Scottie play soccer? Why is he in a wheelchair?” I knew her inquisitive mind would ask questions about Scottie – and I was ready to give her the answers. At first she was intimidated by Scottie’s wheelchair and the fact that he looked different than everybody else. But after 3-4 visits to their home, my daughter and Scottie were two peas in a pod. My daughter started drawing pictures “just for Scottie”, asked to call him to say goodnight, and she even invited him to her birthday party.

On Christmas Eve of 2009, Scottie was admitted to ICU for pneumonia. My daughter overheard me on the phone with my church asking to help raise money for his medical bills. My daughter came into my room with several pieces of paper wrapped like presents with “SARAH” scribbled on the front. “What’s this, honey?” I asked. “Since Sarah and Scottie need money, I took all of the money from my piggy bank to give them. It’s in here. Can we take it to the hospital and give it to them?” Conley asked.

The most effective way for a child to learn compassion is for them to follow their parent’s lead. If mom reaches out to a person in need, the children will follow suit. If dad is involved in regular charity events, the kids will too.

Bring your kids along for the ride. Take them to the soup kitchens, the homeless shelters and get them involved in fund-raisers. How do you expect your children to be compassionate if you are not compassionate, giving and non-judgmental yourself? A compassionate child starts with a compassionate parent.

Dr. Janice Cohn, author of “Raising Compassionate Children In a Violent World”, spent years researching kids who were involved in helping people in need and the parents of these children.  She said there was one clear common denominator in every case: “Each child had parents or other crucial role models who either taught them the importance of compassion and courage by example or unequivocally supported the children’s instincts to respond to people who needed help” Dr. Cohn noted.

Dr. Cohn also says, “When people develop into compassionate, caring human beings, it not only benefits society but also promotes personal happiness and higher self-esteem as well.”

Children are incredibly bright creatures. It’s human nature for parents to avoid wanting their children to spend time with a person in need in fear that they might ask an “embarrassing” question. But we need to realize that those questions kids ask are awesome opportunities for parents to teach their children that there are a zillion people in the world who talk, walk and look different than us. And they are our friends.

Who are three people or organizations in your town who need your help? Make a plan to take your family (kids included) to serve these people in a special way. You might have one of the most special family outings your have ever had in your entire life!

Parenting teenagers can be one of the toughest jobs in the world. But if you keep these 5 important concepts in mind, you’ll find they help you with challenges both big and small.

1. The relationship is the most important thing. Parenting requires many different kinds of interactions with our kids. We provide for them, feed them, share our morals and values, inspire them, teach them about the world—and sometimes protect them from it, and love them. Many of these elements of parenting can be gotten from more than one source, but the one that is completely unique to you… is you. Your child needs a life-long, strong, healthy, communicative relationship with his parents! In all interactions with your teenager, remind yourself that the overall priority is to keep the lines of communication open, and the relationship as positive as it can be.

2. It’s our job as parents to help prepare our kids for the real world. Parents typically want to protect our kids from the evils and heartbreaks that exist out there. That’s normal and healthy and generally encouraged. But. Our other very important job is to help our children acquire the skills, habits, resources, and strength to be able to handle the problems of the world on their own. We can’t protect them forever, so we’d better equip them. Start now.

3. Let go a little bit every day. At some point, our children will be on their own: their own house, their own money… managing their own lives. The best way to help them get ready for this inevitability is to give them a little bit of responsibility, power, control, and experience every day. Parents need to share their power with their teenagers. Give them a greater and greater role in making their own decisions.

4. Parents are experts on long-range success, but teens generally are the experts on short-range success. This is almost always true socially, and is often also true with short-term academic success. In other words, yes, you probably do know best how to dress for a job interview and what quality level of work will be required in college. But your teen often knows the intricacies of their English teacher’s makeup work policy, and certainly what kinds of clothes will help them to blend in with their friends and make sure they have a place to sit at lunch. Both are important. Remember to give your teen credit (and some freedom) to manage their short-term success.

5. The single best way to get your kid to change is to let them see you changing. The power of role modeling cannot be overstated! There is a lot of power in acknowledging that—even though we’re the parent!—we’re still not perfect. It also sends the message that in your home—everyone is committed to growing. Such a powerful and positive message!