Teaching kids about the dignity of life begins can be started in early childhood and continued through adolescence. Young children understand the importance of life by watching you interact with people and animals, but kids also need to discuss dignity issues with you in terms they can easily understand. Religious teachings provide different interpretations on how to demonstrate dignity for the living, but all organized religions agree on some basic principles. Your children can learn these by doing a few activities as they grow.
Elderly Volunteer Work
Caring for the elderly teaches kids that all people eventually grow old, and that there is dignity in aging well. Helping the aged in the community demonstrates sanctity for human life. Ask your children to craft small homemade gifts and write notes for the elderly, including one who isn't among your family members and close friends. Recognize this person on holidays and important days such as the senior's birthday. Bring your children to visit and encourage the kids to ask about interesting events or things that happened during the senior's life.
The family pet teaches kids how to treat all living things with dignity. Pets typically have shorter life expectancies, and children become aware of the animal's physical limitations as your pet ages. Involve your child in making the necessary accommodations to handle aging, such as making a coat for an older dog to wear in cold weather. The death of a pet also teaches kids the reality that all people and animals die. Discuss the importance of providing a quality life for your pet and what that entails. Give your children regular age-appropriate pet care duties, and model how to show love to the animal so your child learns proper ways to show affection. If your living arrangement doesn't allow for family pets, volunteer at a local shelter or clinic, or ask a neighbor with animals to allow your children to help out with pet chores and love duty.
Visit your parents, grandparents and extended family regularly to demonstrate the importance of relationships in life. Develop a family tree and talk to your child about the people on the document. Your child may not understand the difference between a grandmother or a second cousin, but understanding the concept of family helps teach the importance of nurturing dignified relationships. Family stories help kids learn to have empathy for others, according to the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley. Encourage your child to cut images from magazines, write a word or draw a picture to send to extended family living far away. Take photos of your child to share with family and ask relatives to return photos for your child to keep.
Child's Garden Project
The dignity of life involves humans and all living things, and a small garden project designed specifically for children teaches kids about wildlife, insects, plant life, and also the role plants play in sustaining human life. A tiny garden that rotates plants from the spring through fall helps make children aware of the seasons and the important role insects and birds play in growing the food we eat. Take food from the garden for family meals and to share with others, and allow your children to invite a friend to share the story of the child's garden and the experience of dining on the harvest.
- Columbia University Center for the Study of Science and Religion: Dignity of Life at the End of Life
- Wisconsin Catholic Conference Faithful Citizenship 2012 -- Life and Dignity of the Human Person
- Dignitatis Humanae Institute: Universal Declaration of Human Dignity
- Oregon State University Extension Service: For Tomorrow's Grownups, Today Plan a Child's Garden
- KidsHealth: When a Pet Dies
- PETA: Teaching Kids Compassion Toward Animals
- Greater Good Science Center at the University of California: How Stories Change the Brain
- Creatas/Creatas/Getty Images