“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you made me welcome, lacking clothes and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me.” – Matthew 25:35-26

Without a bit of gentle redirection, we tend to focus mostly on our own needs and concerns. Growing in generosity, like any other virtue, takes daily practice – small steps. As parents, we can help our children recognize real suffering, like sickness or loneliness, in the people God puts in their sphere (sometimes, right in their homes!). We can help them realize that it is within their capacities to give great joy and comfort, even when they are still very small. Here are some suggestions on small things that can help little kids discover those in need around them, and what they can do to help. (And hey, adults can do these things, too.)

Write letters to people who live far-away. Left to their own devices, some of my kids will colour, cut, glue or “write” for the entire day. This creative energy can be channeled by pointing out that Grandma or Auntie Sue would love to receive an envelope of their work. Who doesn’t love receiving mail?

Make birthday cards. It’s good for a little person to think about birthdays that are not their own. This also helps them appreciate everyone’s efforts when their birthday rolls around.

Pray for the sick. At bedtime prayers (or at any other time), a simple “God bless Great Grandma who’s really not feeling well” brings a little person closer, not only to God, but to Great Grandma as well.

Pray for random intentions. “Daddy’s dressed all fancy because he has an interview today, so don’t forget to God bless Daddy today sometime” or “Karen (the bus driver) works really hard driving you each day, and sometimes the kids on the bus act like crazy monkeys, let’s ask God to bless Karen.”

Start with low-effort sharing. Asking a child to share a not-so-beloved teddy bear is easier than asking them to share their Super Favourite Bestest Friend in the Whole World teddy bear. Every once in a while, help your child choose one or two toys for boys and girls who don’t have any. “Arranging” small success in sharing builds generosity slowly and works better than demanding heroic sacrifice right from the start.

Keep someone company. Before disappearing into the recesses of the toy room, a little person can spend a few minutes sitting with the baby on the living room rug, building towers meant for enthusiastic demolition, or with Grandpa, telling him all about how school went. It takes a bit of coaxing, but I find that they ultimately see how little effort it takes to make someone a bit happier.

Mother Teresa says, “We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty.”