It is natural to want to raise a child who is focused on others and who has a sense of responsibility to society. Children, though, do not always naturally possess these traits, especially when living in a culture that caters to an “it’s all about me” ideology. Showing children how to be selfless versus simply telling them how to be selfless may be the key to unlocking the compassion within their hearts. You have the power to show children how to give of themselves through volunteering activities.
By Abby Nelson, Nanny Classifieds
The Benefits of Volunteering
Volunteering can carry significant social benefits for children, says Dr. Mark McKee, psychologist and author of Raising a Successful Child: The Manual.
According to McKee, volunteering provides children with the opportunity to discover the world that extends beyond their small and protected environment. “It’s also an opportunity to give to others with no promise or expectation of return or reward and intrinsic rewards gained through the experience will be cherished for life,” he says.
Lending a hand to someone in need can heighten your child’s sense of self-esteem and self-worth while also providing an opportunity to possibly discover new career options on which to build aspirations, says McKee. “It’s an opportunity to truly appreciate their own advantages in this life and an opportunity to feel genuinely useful and appreciated, which are things many children never experience living in homes with abundant and at times, unlimited resources,” he says.
Jumping Right In
A sulky 5-year-old or a bothered 13-year-old may not immediately see the benefits of volunteering, so it’s important to show them how to turn a selfless act into a fun adventure through hands-on activities.
Designate a specific day for volunteer activities and jump right in with one of the following acts of kindness:
- Collect children’s books from family and friends, and donate them to a local hospital or library.
- Sign up for a charity walk to benefit an organization or disease awareness.
- Donate food to a food pantry by having your child pick out an item each time you shop for groceries.
- Volunteer to serve meals to the homeless at a local shelter or food pantry.
- Construct activity boxes—complete with puzzles, coloring books, and games—to donate to a children’s center or a children’s hospital.
- Donate a few hours to pick up litter at local parks or roadways.
- Visit a nursing home and offer to share your talents through musical entertainment or story time.
- Deliver meals to the homebound. (Many food pantries offer these services.)
- Take the kids along when you volunteer to drive an elderly neighbor to the doctor or grocery store.
- Volunteer to feed, walk, and care for abandoned animals at the local animal shelter.
- Gather several classmates and friends to raise awareness and money to help refugee kids in schools around the world.
- Recruit the entire family to tutor, mentor, or read with younger children.
- Work with the local Red Cross agency to give blood or organize a community blood drive.
- Make cards, blankets, and stuffed animals for sick children; donate to a local organization that provides care items to hospitals and children’s centers.
There are unlimited options for volunteering, both locally and nationally, that you can take advantage of to show children how acts of kindness can significantly impact someone else’s life. Find even more opportunities and learn how to brainstorm and plan family volunteer trips with the PBS Family Guide to Volunteering.
While venturing out to volunteer activities, it’s important to let your children experience how giving can change someone else’s life while impacting their own as well. “Having children volunteer helps them to get out of themselves,” says Carl Hindy, a clinical psychologist in New Hampshire. “It teaches them social interest, empathy and awareness of others.”
If children can only imagine hardship as something that exists far away from their homes, volunteering can localize the need for help. “In volunteering close to home, in your own community, you can take back a sense of efficacy over your world,” says Hindy. “Serving a meal to a homeless person makes a huge difference for that person, and for you.”