Teach your kids how to be a good neighbor, and you’ll give them the gift of a strong, safe, and caring community…plus the habit of serving others. Here are eight strategies to try with your kids.
by Heidi Indahl
This is an abridged excerpt from 67 Ways to Do the Works of Mercy with Your Kids.
Once upon a time, belonging to a community was essential: Neighbors relied on one another for mutual aid, assistance, and protection because the institutions that provide those things today didn’t exist. Now, many people are isolated from even their closest neighbors, not only by the institutionalization of service, but by the proliferation of modern conveniences: air conditioning, automobiles, conversation-squashing lawn mowers, in-home entertainment, the Internet, and cell phones. Sometimes, it takes a real crisis for people to rediscover the joys of community.
Connecting with your local community has several benefits:
- Communities in which people have strong connections with one another tend to be safer, healthier, and happier than those in which people are isolated and disconnected.
- Connecting with others in your community may reveal hidden opportunities for doing works of mercy that you might not otherwise notice. Once you are on a first-name basis with the elderly couple down the street, for example, it becomes much easier to check in and help if you see an ambulance visit their house. And once your kids get to know the kids down the street, it’s more likely you’ll know to help out when that family comes down with the flu, has a baby, or experiences a layoff.
- Connecting with others in your community can provide your family with allies and collaborators for doing the works of mercy. If a neighbor breaks her ankle and needs help for a
couplemonths, for example, you can organize a meal train with other neighbors. Or you might find yourselves collaborating on issues that affect the whole community, such as the need for safety improvements along your street.
- Once others in your local community are connected with you and your kids, your kids will be safer out and about in the neighborhood because other adults will be more likely to watch out for them or to help if they get into trouble.
- As you get to know and help others in your neighborhood, it is more likely that they will reach out to help your family, too.
Here are some family activities for intentionally building or forming communities, especially in your neighborhood.
Make a neighborhood map and directory
Take your older kids (ages 5+) on walks around your neighborhood, and help them map all of the residences, drawing a box for each one. Try to fill in all the boxes with the names of the people (and pets!) who live there, and if possible, contact information. If you don’t know many of your neighbors, this may be a long-term project. Take your map along with you, using the project as a pretext for introducing yourself and your children to the neighbors you meet outside. You can then enlist your neighbors’ help completing it.
Alternatively, you might enlist your neighbors’ assistance in creating a neighborhood directory that can be distributed to everyone who participates.
Organize a neighborhood party
A neighborhood or block party isn’t as much work as you might think it would be, and it’s a fun way to get to know new neighbors and reconnect with neighbors you haven’t seen in a long time. If you like, recruit a
Form a babysitting co-op
If you have younger children, form an informal neighborhood babysitting cooperative so that you and other parents can easily swap kids on short notice. Check in with older residents who may be willing to watch kids, too.
Welcome the stranger
Make a special effort to welcome new arrivals in your neighborhood with a welcome basket or a sweet treat.
Go trick-or-treating in your neighborhood
Halloween offers a built-in opportunity to meet the neighbors. Although curated events at schools and churches have become popular in recent years, make a point of at least visiting your immediate neighbors—especially older residents who may especially enjoy seeing your kids in costume. Nursing homes and hospitals also frequently offer trick-or-treating opportunities.
Christmas caroling in your neighborhood is another fun way to meet your neighbors and build community. This is an activity you can do as a family, but it will be more fun if you gather a few other families to go with you. Contact friends, neighbors, or place an announcement in your parish bulletin.
Caroling can also be a work of mercy, especially if you plan to visit an institution for those in need, such as a soup kitchen, homeless shelter, hospital, nursing home, or county jail. Alternatively, contact your parish for the names of homebound individuals, and go caroling at their homes. You’ll need to contact the volunteer coordinator for these institutions a few weeks in advance. See Take Your Kids Christmas Caroling for more ideas.
Community service days
Community service or volunteer days are organized for one day each year by a specific group to encourage volunteering throughout the year. Colleges often organize days for faculty, alumni, and staff. Volunteers select an activity for that day from a list of projects. Cities, schools, and banks are also known to organize days for entire communities. Watch for local events and make a family commitment to participate in the next one you see.
Walk or run for charity
Work with your local police department to set up a neighborhood watch. Besides improving neighborhood safety, it’s another way to connect with your neighbors. Older kids and teens can participate in
For even more community service ideas, check out
67 Ways to Do the Works of Mercy with Your Kids