As the mother of two grown sons and a daughter-in-law, there is something that really resonates for me with the title of this book by Vera Williams! Beyond my personal affiliation, however, is the significance of this phrase as a marker for what I like to call “Habits of the Heart.”

I often hear parents lament that their children want to make new friends. Well, friendship skills begin at home. Seriously, if you can cultivate the trait of compassion, the roots of caring will run deep.

They begin with the qualities for being a good friend and translate to behaviors that enhance the world: character enables children to contribute – first to their nuclear family and then in a constellation to their society. They realize they are a part of something bigger than themselves, an awareness that helps them build self-confidence and resilience. They learn to do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, as in the instance of the young girl in “A Chair for My Mother” who resolves to fill a glass jar with loose change over the course of a year so that she can buy an easy chair for her hard-working mom.

Contribution is a relatively easy value to teach; you can start when kids are at a young age to model the concept that the world is a better place when people give of themselves, developing a sense of purpose. Talk about an opportunity to counteract the notion that today’s youth are self-centered!

Here are just a couple of thoughts as examples that could motivate; I invite readers to add other ideas in the comments below.

One of my favorite acts of contribution is Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg’s description of his three-month-old as a “pass-around baby” at a nursing home! While his daughter clearly doesn’t recall her donation, the Ginsburgs say it was the beginning of many volunteer efforts.

At the other end of the spectrum, I am intrigued by Dr. Susan Love’s new research campaign to combat breast cancer, an initiative that necessitates what she calls an “army of volunteers” to provide healthy samples for the researchers (

More commonplace but certainly not less effective, there is a vast array of giving to be done: collecting canned foods for a soup kitchen, donating outgrown coats for a homeless shelter, cleaning up a stream in the neighborhood, filling a shoebox with books and toys for children in the hospital, entertaining senior citizens, or tutoring other children….

Acts of kindness are everywhere; they sometimes just need to be sparked or identified – that’s where parents can inspire. The deeds can be spontaneous, small gestures, like giving up something minor to help another, or they can be intentional and targeted toward a specific charity to support a community- or world-wide effort. Check out “A Kid’s Guide to Giving” by Freddi Zeiler or “A Kid’s Guide to Service Projects” by Barbara Lewis. But please don’t go down the slippery slope of deciding this is a great way for your child to distinguish him/herself on a college application! (Remember, do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do!). And beware the temptation to take over the task, even though it’s in our DNA as parents!

Charitable deeds build connections, and connections build friendships. Now that’s a worthwhile cause!