Craig and Marc Kielburger are founders of Free The Children and Me to We, a social enterprise. They are authors of "The World Needs Your Kid: Raising Children Who Care And Contribute," with journalist Shelley Page.
New Year's resolutions typically focus on the individual -- like becoming healthier, fitter or thinner. And they're typically abandoned by Valentine's Day, if not sooner. This year, why not set some attainable goals that look beyond yourself to your entire family, and also help shape behaviour beyond a few months and well into the future? Here are eight simple and sustainable tips to help parents make the most of 2012 and beyond:
1) Re-gift For Good
The average child gets inundated with presents during the holiday season. Some gifts go unappreciated, even unopened. Give those presents the home they deserve. Now that the wrapping paper has been cleared away, sit down with your child and discuss what one or two toys they might like to pass on to someone else: A child in need, kids at the local children's hospital, a family shelter, or even a daycare. Make sure these presents are still brand-new or only very gently used, with all the pieces (no one wants a hole in their new jigsaw puzzle). Update the wrapping -- and remove the old card. Don't worry; the original giver will be happy to know that someone, if not your family, will enjoy their gift.
2) Early To Rise
Start each day in the new year by setting the alarm 20 minutes earlier to avoid the morning rush. Picking out clothes and prepping bag lunches the night before can help ensure the morning is about quality time, not crunch time. With luck, you'll spend less time hustling your kids out the door and more time checking in with them about the day ahead as you munch on toast and cereal. Ask what they're looking forward to that day, and have them think of one little, simple thing (a gesture for a friend, say) that can make someone else's day. Connecting leads to caring.
3) Talk About The Headlines
Start a subscription to a newspaper or magazine. Read articles together and point out stories of interest to your children. Discuss the influence of individuals you read about -- and the difference they are making in the world. Archbishop Desmond Tutu tells us that every morning he lays the newspaper on the table and first his children, and now his grandchildren, are invited to sit with him and read. He does not see a catalogue of ills, but a menu of problems he can choose from to solve -- a daily to-do list for changing the world. As for sharing "bad" news stories, Educators for Social Responsibility suggest parents acknowledge and discuss when children (typically ages 6 to 11, who know more than you think) have been exposed to disturbing current events. Make sure they are allowed to express their opinions, fears and ideas. Instead of being overwhelmed, your comfort and guidance can help them work through their fears and alleviate feelings of helplessness.
4) Live By Example
Your kids pick up on everything you do, so if you want them to pursue life with caring and compassion, set an example by doing it first. Open the door for a stranger who is struggling with her bags. Help someone in line for coffee who is short of change. Buy lunch for a senior on a pension. Or really set a new standard for your family by going one step further by, for example, sharing your own musical talents at a retirement home.
5) Create A Family Tradition
As you raise your family, carry on old traditions and create new ones that make a difference in the world, like volunteering together once a month at a hospital. Stand side-by-side as you stack cans at the food bank, clean up a local beach or go door-to-door for your favourite cause. There is also good to be done in just hanging out as a family: set aside a night to play games, make a meal together, watch a movie or documentary about another culture, or prepare food using a recipe from a world away.
6) Break Bread Instead
The family dinner is endangered in many households, as parents and kids eat at different times or even in different rooms. Try to eat dinner together at least once a week -- without gadgets ringing, buzzing or pinging. Sharing a meal strengthens the family bond, improves conversation skills and can even help weight loss. Plus, studies have shown that kids who eat regular family dinners are less likely to abuse alcohol and drugs. Invite every person around the dinner table to express gratitude for something that happened during the day, or to relate the day's highlights and low points. Get them talking about small injustices they've witnessed, then help them figure out how to react -- and act.
7) De-clutter The Calendar
Children don't benefit from over-scheduling. It just makes them worn out and weary. That goes for you too. Scrutinize your children's days and figure out what activities can be cut. Hockey? Tuba? Chess club? How many activities does your child need to do in a week -- and how many are you required to get him to? According to Dr. Patrick McGrath from the Hospital for Sick Children, the appropriate number of hours per week for organized extracurricular activities is unknown. Some kids thrive on being busy, others need their downtime. The key is determining what has been sacrificed to accommodate the extra activities. Was it TV time or time hanging out at the mall? If so, great! But if extra activities are cutting deeper into family time, it is likely time to reconsider the cluttered sked.
8) Read Us!
Follow our weekly column at Huffington Post Canada and check back weekly for inspiring tips on raising socially conscious kids.