Caring for one another is innate. Scientific experiments have shown that babies and toddlers as young as 15 months will recognize others’ need for assistance, and will lend assistance without prompting.
Still, as we grow older, we might find ourselves losing some steam when it comes to helping others. A 2013 study by the Charities Aid Foundation found that only 47% of us reported helping a stranger in the past month; only 28.5% of us donated money; and only 19.7% of us volunteered our time.
So how do we encourage our little ones to make charity and volunteerism a part of their everyday life? For starters…
ENCOURAGE HELPFUL ATTITUDES FROM THE GET-GO
Getting “help” with household chores from your toddlers can be a time-consuming investment. At best, simple household chores like watering the houseplants and sorting the laundry will take twice as long as usual, and you might find yourself redoing all their hard work once they’re done.
Still, the investment comes with a big payoff. The five-year-old who helps prepare the family dinner will be the one cooking meals at the Ronald McDonald House in 15 years; and the two-year-old picking tomatoes and strawberries in the garden will be the one volunteering to mow the church’s front lawn as a teen. Helping others should be included in the daily routine as early as possible, with more challenging tasks added with age. Which brings us to…
GETTING INVOLVED WITH AGE-APPROPRIATE CHARITABLE ACTIVITIES
If your children excel in a particular subject or school activity, they might be interested in tutoring peers and younger children, or assisting a teacher with after-school chores. They might also find opportunities with churches, local museums and the like, or assisting elderly neighbors with yard work and dog-walking. For other volunteering opportunities in your town, try VolunteerMatch.org’s geographic search tool; be sure to filter your search for Kids and/or Teens opportunities.
If your kids are still a bit young to take on outside projects, encourage their charitable natures by asking them to donate a few toys to charity. (Getting their assistance in donating their old clothing may be slightly less traumatic.) You also might want to bring your child to the grocery store to let her pick out a few of her favorite nonperishable packaged foods to send to the food bank.
When it’s time for the little guys to take on the responsibility of something bigger, they’ll be even more apt to want to volunteer somewhere if you…
LEAD BY EXAMPLE
If you were in your child’s place, would you see yourself regularly doing good in your community? If you measure your charitable efforts by the number of Thin Mints purchased, it may be time to do your own search for a place to volunteer. VolunteerMatch.org is a great place to start your search as well.
If you AND your child are both looking for new volunteer opportunities, you should see where your interests intersect. If you find something that fits (and can be sure that you’re not going to be discouraging their interest by tagging along), you might find that it’s a great opportunity for family bonding as well as make an impact in your community.
If you already are volunteering and/or donating money, make sure your kids know what you’re doing, how you selected your charitable outlet, and why it’s important to you. Hearing about your motivating factors will help them define what they want to gain out of volunteering, and ultimately help them choose what they’d like to do.
Once they find their place in the volunteerism world, remind them that…
WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER
It’s great to help others in their times of need. But after enough times visiting the senior center, or taking up collections of food to donate, your kid might get the impression that they’re always going to be on the helping side of the equation, and some people will be in perpetual need of help.
It’s important to make your child aware that volunteering isn’t “Us helping Them”, but about all of us in the community helping each other. They should know that we’re all going to need help at some point in our lives, including your own family.
The idea isn’t to make your child feel insecure about his or her health, or that they might go hungry, but it can be beneficial to remind them of other times when other people helped you—the time when a neighbor watched your pets and watered your plants while you were out of town, or the time when he was lost at the mall, and a friendly store clerk helped him find you. There’s certainly no shame in receiving help. The more your child understands this, the stronger they’ll feel our common humanity when volunteering.
From the time we first begin to understand the world around us, we want to help make it a better place. Make an effort to encourage your child’s natural altruistic instincts, and you’ll both take pride in their accomplishments.