child with bunny
Image courtesy James Hart/Flickr

For years, I’ve been cautioning humane educators to avoid teaching young children about the ills of the world. In my book “Above All, Be Kind: Raising a Humane Child in Challenging Times,” I laid out an approach to bringing humane education principles to children in developmentally appropriate ways. The early years, up to age 6, should be a time to nurture reverence and wonder among children — for the natural world, for others, for animals. Only as they reach school age do I suggest that we expose them, in appropriate doses, to issues that are really too big for them to address when they are young children. By the teenage years, I encourage parents and teachers to help their children and students embrace the wonderful concept of responsibility, which helps each of us gain the freedom to make a difference and live a meaningful life in which we are agents of good.

But this two-minute video about 6-year-olds working for good, raising money and practicing generosity has made me rethink my approach a bit.

Under the right circumstances, with the nurturing of a caring teacher or a wise parent, children can achieve important levels of generosity and kindness well before their teens, which may well pave the way for a lifetime of engaged action, responsibility, and solutionary thinking and behavior.

The key is finding the right balance and not exposing children to too much, ensuring they have healthy and positive ways to make a difference without overwhelming them, and nourishing that spirit of kindness and generosity that makes them feel so good. The teacher in this video has seemingly done this deftly.

I remember when my son gave his one-and-only $5 bill to help others who were less fortunate than he. He was 6. I was deeply moved by his generosity. Now at almost 20 years old, he remains extremely generous. I’m glad he learned this lesson when he was young.

Find the right balance. Young children shouldn’t be exposed to atrocities and acts of evil and cruelty that may shut down their open hearts and numb them. But they can discover early on that they are capable of being kind in ways that extend beyond their interpersonal relationships; this feels great and leads to greater good.