Kids for Social Justice: 6 Ways Kids Can Change the World


Even if you’re little you can do a lot, you
Mustn’t let a little thing like ‘little’ stop you

Matilda the Musical, ‘Naughty’, Tim Minchin

Changing the world is a hard job. Best to start early, don’t you think? Here are a bunch of ways you can help your kids live a life of social justice.

Malala Yousafzai won the Nobel Peace Prize last week. She’s 17. Her public life as an activist for girls’ education when she was around 11, blogging on life under the Taliban in Pakistan. She’s proof that ordinary young people can have genuine influence on the world around them.

If we want our kids to be equipped to make their world a better place by the time they’re adults, we have lots of opportunities to help them get started as littlies.

It’s no coincidence that Malala’s father is also an educational activist. The adults around small people have a huge influence on whether they will see problems around them as things they can tackle and improve, or as things they just have to ‘accept’ as inevitable and unchangeable.

So here are six ideas to kick off with, and I’d love yours in the comments below. How can kids change the world?

6 ways kids can change the world - in meaningful ways! |

1. Kids can be kind

This is the hardest one, and the most important, for my money.

Many adults would recognise that it’s easier to be the CEO of a do-gooding international charity than to be consistently kind and loving to your spouse, that socially awkward relative or a difficult staff member.

Some ideas for helping kids be kind - and make the world a better place |

Wouldn’t the world be better if we all made ‘we are kind to people’ a stated value, a mantra, in our homes?

Let’s treat unkind behaviour just as seriously as running onto a road, worthy of an important conversation and opportunities for learning and restoration. Let’s model kindness to our kids and help them grow in kindness each day.

As Glennon Doyle Melton exhorts her children at the start of every school year, let’s consciously put kindness ahead of academic performance when it comes to what we look for – and praise – in our kids’ learning and progress:

We do not care if you are the smartest or fastest or coolest or funniest. There will be lots of contests at school, and we don’t care if you win a single one of them. We don’t care if you get straight As. We don’t care if the girls think you’re cute or whether you’re picked first or last for kickball at recess. We don’t care if you are your teacher’s favorite or not. We don’t care if you have the best clothes or most Pokemon cards or coolest gadgets. We just don’t care.

We don’t send you to school to become the best at anything at all. We already love you as much as we possibly could. You do not have to earn our love or pride and you can’t lose it. That’s done.

We send you to school to practice being brave and kind.

Kind people are brave people. Brave is not a feeling that you should wait for. It is a decision. It is a decision that compassion is more important than fear, than fitting in, than following the crowd.

Trust me, baby, it is. It is more important.

Don’t try to be the best this year, honey.

Just be grateful and kind and brave. That’s all you ever need to be.

[Read more at Momastery.]

Can you imagine the enormous difference your little daughter or son could make to the life of the loneliest kid in their class? That’s parenting gold, right there.

Peter Pan Book Bench, Photo credit: Alex Georgescu

‘Always try to be a little kinder than necessary’ JM Barrie, The Little White Bird. Peter Pan Book Bench in London, Photo credit: Alex Georgescu

Here’s a very effective motherly encouragement of kindness that has stayed with me for years. Paul Windsor writes this about his mother (on the occasion of her eightieth birthday):

It was interesting to hear her talk today of her own mum. “She didn’t push us to achieve at school academically, or excel in other areas – she just wanted us to be good.” That was quite a revelation. It is true of mum herself and it is true of what she has tried to pass on. Every day we’d go off to school with the following words ringing in our ears: “be good, be kind, be true – and look after the lonely ones”.

What other ideas do you have about helping kids to be deeply kind? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

2. Kids can be conscious consumers

In our house we’ve just entered the ‘why’ phase (sound familiar?)

Recent research showed that parents at home were asked more questions per hour than the Prime Minister during parliamentary question time – I’m sure this is not a surprise to you.

The study found question-asking peaked with four-year-old girls asking a question every one minute and 56 seconds. All day… (Feel free to add your stories of esoteric questions in the comments for plenty of sympathy from me and others!)

But what a great opportunity – what a great window of time – to help children understand the true cost of consumer goods and modern living, and engage them in social justice living.

We had this conversation just yesterday:

Please don’t stand on the drawer.


Because it might break, and someone spent a lot of time making it.


Because it takes a long time to make something good. And then someone else would have to take a long time to fix it. So it’s best to just look after our things. So please don’t stand on the drawer.

Oh. I’m just touching it now.

I predict you will have many opportunities to have versions of this conversation!

Kids often love learning about supply chains. Give some thought to how the things they consume or use daily were produced and tell the stories to your kids – or let them research that stuff themselves.

Older ones might enjoy this brilliant video, The Story of Stuff, an animated talk on the consumption chain – with heaps of resources and follow-up videos at their website.

Whether or not your kids have pocket money, they certainly have financial influence. Enlist their help in putting together your grocery list and talk together about where things come from. Why do you, in your house, choose organic, or fairtrade, or local, or eco-friendly products?

Let them help you pick out their friends’ birthday presents from Trade Aid or a charity shop (you could happily do your entire Christmas shopping at Trade Aid, I bet – take a look at the amazing range of stuff they sell – and deliver!). Another great things about shops like Trade Aid (selling stuff from the developing world, supporting small businesses) is that they usually have labels about exactly who made the products and where. Great for kids to have clear pictures of the other people whose lives are touched by their purchases.

Help littlies count the cost of the stuff you buy. Let them feel good about participating in commerce that makes the world better.

3. Kids can look after the earth (and its inhabitants – like us)

The other end of the consumption chain, of course, is what we do with stuff when we’re done with it. Very small children are quite capable of learning the difference between rubbish and recycling, and which container each goes in.

You can start out with that kind of sorting, for very little kids. Then move to more of those ‘why’ conversations about where things go when we throw them away. Teach them early that there’s no such thing as ‘away’, there’s just somewhere else.

The Story of Stuff, There is no such thing as away, Annie Leonard

Take them to the recycling station and the landfill so the ‘away’ isn’t hidden. Most recycling businesses welcome public visits to see what happens behind the scenes – what a cool adventure that could be for your kids, right? Take some friends and make a day of it.

Some other ways to help your kids get in the habit of living sustainably:

  • Involve kids in family decisions about driving or taking public transport, taking into account the (whole) cost of fuel and emissions.
  • Garden with them (a whole nother topic, really, so I’ll leave it there for today).
  • Encourage them to sort through their toys and clothes, regularly, and find better homes for their things, like a women’s refuge, a charity shop, or friends with younger children.
  • Mend things with them to give their broken stuff new life. Teach kids how to re-attach a button or sew up a hem. And all kids like superglue, don’t they?
  • This list is surely the tip of the iceberg. What other ideas do you have? Pop them in the comments below…

4. Kids can give their time

There are heaps of team volunteering opportunities for both adults and kids, where you can join with others to increase your impact.

Last week the lovely Laura Giddey (you might remember that she’s written guest posts here on being single, being a wedding celebrant, and buying locally-made gifts at Christmas) was joining a team of volunteers to pick unwanted fruit with Community Fruit Harvesting. Like similar groups around the country, they pick surplus produce and give it schools and food banks, or make it into preserves and pass it on that way. How cool is that?

We were passing through Auckland on our way home, jet-lagged and recovering from a week of illness, so Laura very kindly took our little boy, two-and-three-quarters, with her for the afternoon of picking fruit from a retired citrus orchard. He had an absolute ball, and even brought me home two tangelos and a lemon as trophies.

James fruit 1

So why not intersperse your excursions to playgrounds and museums with team volunteering adventures? Go and pick some fruit, clean up a beach, plant some trees, deliver meals-on-wheels – any number of ‘adult’ volunteer activities can happily accommodate small helpers. How brilliant that kids can do something real to make a difference to real people – there’s nothing token about this.

Check out your local volunteer centre if you don’t know where to start. If you don’t have kids of your own, borrow some next time you’re doing something helpful like this.

Make sure you talk about the point of what you’re doing (remember that as much as kids learn by observation, a lot of ‘values’ messages also need to be spelt out). It’s a fun activity that also makes the world a better place. Be specific and be proud, together.

James fruit 2

5. Kids can give their money

Little ones can make a direct impact in their world by making good choices in their everyday lives. But they probably can’t stop the spread of ebola or feed a hungry refugee themselves (neither can most of their parents).

Luckily for all of us, we can partner with people who are doing those things, particularly by giving money to them and their projects.

If your kids have their own disposable income, from birthday presents or a regular allowance, then they have the power to make a difference in the world at whatever rate they choose. Let’s make sure they know how powerful they are.

Most children have an empathetic response to seeing suffering on the news. I know a little boy – well, now a university student – who, on seeing the classic World Vision ad for child sponsorship (‘while you order coffee, a little girl waits…’), ran, distressed, to his parents, and said ‘A little girl is waiting! We’ve got to help her!’

When that happens, what a wonderful chance to take it seriously and let our kids respond in a meaningful way. Show them they have the power to contribute.

Lucy at Lulastic and the Hippyshake has a great piece on all the advantages of getting kids involved in child sponsorship – it might be worth considering for kids you know.

If you’re part of a church community there are probably some overseas workers you could connect with directly. Your kids could write to them, as well as join their funding team at the rate of, say, $1 a week. Financial generosity is a great habit to start early.

If they don’t have money of their own, brainstorm ways they could earn money that they can donate to whatever cause has captured their compassion. I bet your neighbours would find an appeal to do some weeding or wash a car pretty irresistible if it’s so a child can respond generously to needs in the world.

[A brief interruption…]

I have a few one more big idea for kids to make a difference in the world.

Just before we get to it, I wanted to mention that I’ve just started a Patreon account. If you’ve found this article thought-provoking and helpful, and would like to support me to write more stuff like this, head on over.

You can leave your suggestions, vote for what the next article will be, and make my writing possible. Thanks!

I don't take advertising or sponsorship for anything on Sacraparental. A new way you can give me time to write this kind of article is through Patreon. Come on over and have a look - you even get some behind-the-scenes stuff :)

I don’t take advertising or sponsorship for anything on Sacraparental. A new way you can give me time to write this kind of article is through Patreon. Come on over and have a look – you even get some behind-the-scenes stuff 🙂


6. Kids can practise hospitality

Making room for the stranger is an ancient cultural practice in many parts of the world.

‘Hospitality’ has been distorted, in much of the modern world, into having your friends over for dinner, but historically, including in the ancient Christian practice, it’s about welcoming the stranger who needs food and shelter and care – hence the related English words ‘hostel’ and ‘hospital’.

Encourage your kids to practise this kind of hospitality. If social hosting isn’t just about friends, that might change who they choose to invite to a birthday party, or for a play date (or it might not – this is a hard one even for adults to learn, so go slowly).

Maybe they can proudly open the door to guests you or they have invited or serve them food or drinks. If they’d rather help out away from the spotlight, they can make up a bed for someone you’re hosting or help with the dishes.

Again, the usefulness of all this is all in how you frame it. Rather than just ‘doing a job’, your kids are showing love and welcome to someone who needs it, doing their bit to look after somebody, maybe even somebody they don’t know very well.

‘And that’s not right!’

Most children have a keen sense of justice (as you’ll find out if you serve a bunch of kids different amounts of cake, yes?).

Adults around them can help to show them that injustice is something they can tackle, at any age, and it does make a difference.

As Matilda sings:

Just because you find that life’s not fair it
Doesn’t mean that you just have to grin and bear it
If you always take it on the chin and wear it
Nothing will change.

Even if you’re little, you can do a lot, you
Mustn’t let a little thing like ‘little’ stop you
If you sit around and let them get on top, you
Might as well be saying
You think that it’s okay
And that’s not right!

And if it’s not right
You have to put it right.

And now it’s your turn. What else? How can kids exercise their power as agents of change in the world? How can we help them not to feel powerless? I’d love to hear your big and small ideas, about theory and practicalities. Do you have some stories of things you have done together, or that your kids have done that you’re proud of? Tell us, please, in the comments below.

This is a special post as part of Blog Action Day. The theme this year is inequality, which I’ve written about a fair bit from different angles. Check out the list below for other Sacraparental posts, and the Blog Action Day site for a global sample.

On the situation of oppressed peoples in Burma

On solutions for inequality and child poverty in New Zealand, under a conservative government

On getting rid of rape culture

On making the world a better place for girls and women

On body hatred

On the lack of women leading Baptist churches

On Palestine

On sexist attitudes to breastfeeding in public

On tackling the global problem of child marriage

On attitudes toward disability and Down Syndrome

On fairtrade children’s clothes

On comparing worldly possessions around the world

And if you’re newish to Sacraparental, you might like to check out the Sacraparental Facebook feed, with daily links and resources, and my Pinterest boards, especially the topical Change the World, and Character.

You can also make more articles like this possible by heading over to my Patreon!

I don't take advertising or sponsorship for anything on Sacraparental. A new way you can give me time to write this kind of article is through Patreon. Come on over and have a look - you even get some behind-the-scenes stuff :)


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21 comments on “Kids for Social Justice: 6 Ways Kids Can Change the World”

  1. Lulastic Reply

    This is SUCH a fantastic post! So much to think on. I love all your images too and am just about to pin the heck out of it. You are a great Mum, doing a world changing job.

  2. Andrew Reply

    I love this….it encompasses everything we have tried to teach our eldest son who is so compassionate and hospitable he puts his parents to shame often. We have opened a room in our house up to a guest in need, and on the second day she was there he handmade her a small gift and wrote her a note saying he hoped she enjoyed her time staying with us, and then placed in her room for her to find.

    Our struggle with his caring nature has been at school there is a very troubled boy who he feels compelled to play with because he has very few friends, but this boy bullies and physically hurts our son. It is a difficult line telling our son he cannot play with this boy (after we’ve encouraged his compassion) because he needs to be and feel safe and protect himself at school.

    • not a wild hera Reply

      Thanks so much for this, Andrew. Kindness can be hazardous, can’t it!?

      I guess, depending on each child’s temperament, combining kindness with self-care, healthy boundaries etc will be the way to go?

  3. Anna S Reply

    Thanks Thalia – that’s a very thought provoking post (even for someone without kids). On the one hand, I’m extremely grateful to my parents for the way they modelled some of these things, and involved us kids in them. On the other hand, I’m challenged by the gap between how I live and how I’d like to live, particularly in regards to hospitality.

  4. kiwienzian Reply

    Hi Thalia – Anna S’s friend Heather here (the one with Chronic Fatigue – I commented on your post on disability a while back). Kind of related to ‘2’ is ‘Kids can use pester power for good’.

    Two examples:

    On the BBC recently I heard about a public health campaign in Burkina Faso. Something like 95% of the population listen to the radio daily, so they’re running a public health trial where a ‘health’ radio station broadcasts in some areas and not others. It has soap operas, documentaries, talk-back and music, all aimed at getting public health messages across. I was amused to hear of one dad who’d been pestered by his kids to dig them a toilet after hearing about the benefits on the radio 🙂 Their pester power probably improved the health of their whole family, and went some way to improving the health of their whole village by helping to normalise having a toilet. You can hear the programme here, should you be interested:

    Closer to home, my friend’s nephew (then aged 8 or 9) was concerned about the effects of palm oil plantations on oranga-utans after learning about it at the zoo. He went on to harrass his wider family (not just his nuclear family) about it and was able to successfully get them all to give up Tim-tams and various other biscuits as a result. It’s a while since I asked and I don’t know how long they kept it up, but they certainly went significantly without them for many months.

    I guess that translates into exposing your kids to ideas about what would make the world a better place and seeing where that takes them 🙂

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  6. Thomas Beagle Reply

    Another (and possibly contentious) subject is where our food comes from.

    Many children are naturally compassionate towards animals and struggle with the realities of farming and harvesting them. It’s also a good opportunity to talk about factory farming and large scale agriculture, and the effects they can have on the environment.

    (This also led to an amusing case of 4 year old political activism. She was just so *sure* that if she explained it properly to her Nan that of course she would give up eating meat.)
    Thomas Beagle recently posted…Speech about RealMe, big data & powerMy Profile

    • thaliakr Reply

      Oh yes, absolutely. We talk about such things at the supermarket quite a lot – why we buy these ones and not those ones. It led to my little guy asking, when we weren’t going to buy nectarines one day, ‘did they not have a good life?’ 🙂

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  9. Doris Reply

    This is so well put together what kids as little as they are can contribute to the world positively. Thanks a million.
    We have a practice of making a happy birthday video with the kids and sending them to their cousins, friends, aunts and uncles if we can’t meet them personally. It is such a loving experience to the kids and the recipient.

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