Looking to raise socially responsible and compassionate children? Seek out service opportunities for your family. Providing opportunities for children to volunteer alone, or as a part of the family, instills a broader sense of purpose; it connects them to their world in meaningful ways. Volunteering instills a powerful message in children, empowering them to understand that their actions can have a profound impact on someone or something else.
The Benefits of Volunteering: Small Hands, Large Hearts
Tolerance — Children who volunteer in their community have the opportunity to engage and touch the lives of those from different backgrounds, ethnicities, ages, income levels, and education. Exposure to people of diverse backgrounds enables children to identify with and understand others in a deeper context.
Empathy — Volunteering develops empathy in children. Studies have shown that empathy is a pro-social attribute that might actually be a better predictor of a person's life trajectory than traditional academic success. Empathy is the corner stone to "non-cognitive" skills that lead to success at all ages. It is a key human skill, which connects children to others in a meaningful way. Empathy skills are strengthened through service.
Sacrifice — The giving of time or possessions provides lessons in sacrifice for children. Sacrificing leisure time to help others or clean up a park demonstrates "giving" in a concrete way. Once this lesson is internalized, it also helps children recognize other's sacrifices on their behalf.
Connection — The process of volunteering allows children to connect with others in their community. Strong feelings of social connectedness benefit the health of both the individual and the community. Feeling socially connected to others provides a sense of belonging. It can also create a greater sense of stewardship in the child. The overall impact is a child who is a responsible and caring citizen.
Job Skills — Volunteerism can pave a path to future careers. Youth can explore volunteer programs at hospitals and clinics, political campaigns, or environmental organizations. Long-term involvement can lead to leadership roles and greater responsibility. Skills learned in communication and teamwork can be a valuable asset to youth.
Ways to Encourage Involvement
Model Charitable Behavior
You are you child's greatest role model. Children who witness their parents participate in daily acts of kindness and charitable service are more likely to show interest and actively engage in volunteerism. Children who demonstrate great acts of kindness and empathy are emulating what they have witnessed at home.
Volunteering side-by-side with your child in any volunteer capacity is a big win-win. Children always cherish time spent with parents: spending it in the service of others is an added bonus. Parents can serve as great mentors as children learn from listening and observing. A parent can provide a sense of security as a child learns the skills needed to participate. Working together also provides great bonding opportunities. Focusing on a task can provide an environment that fosters deep conversations for older, less communicative, youth. Working as a team strengthens the parent-child relationship and the family unit.
Volunteer opportunities abound for families. Most all-local charities have an online presence with information detailing how to volunteer. Some organizations even allow families to sign up online for designated time slots. Food banks are a great way to introduce children to a volunteer agency. Also, take cues from your children. If they have a particular interest, help them locate a charity that will benefit from their involvement. And, finally, if you do not have the time to serve in the local soup kitchen, simply take stock of your daily routines. A trip to grandma's house or the hospital can provide children an opportunity to reach out. Even grocery shopping can be turned into a charitable activity if children are encouraged to contribute a small portion of their allowance toward food items for others. By incorporating service into your daily life, you can be certain to provide opportunities for empathy, compassion, and social connectedness for your children.