Raising kids isn’t easy…especially in a society that often seems so self-absorbed. (selfies, anyone?)
So how can parents help kids see beyond their own immediate interests and concerns?
By involving their children in opportunities to volunteer their time and energies towards helping others.
While volunteering benefits those on the receiving end – both the individuals and organizations served – it’s hard to quantify how much volunteering benefits the “giver” just as much…if not more.
When you give your child opportunities to help others through volunteering you’re also helping them learn:
When looking for opportunities to volunteer, the closer your child can be to the end result (e.g. handing the sandwich to a homeless person not just making the sandwich) the more concrete their understanding will be of what they’re doing.
Which also leads to more engagement in the volunteering process.
Children gain confidence when they see their own contributions make a difference in someone else’s life. Their success then encourages them to look for other ways they can contribute to their communities, building leadership skills they will take with them throughout their lives.
Social situations are the best way for children to learn social skills, and volunteering is no exception.
When a diverse range of individuals meet through volunteering, they have a common goal in mind, however different people will often approach the same task in a different way, which can potentially lead to conflict.
Children who witness – and participate in – the process of deliberation among the volunteers learn how important collaboration with others is to achieve the desired end result…helping individuals in need.
As children take part in volunteering efforts they learn more about the world around them. As they observe and compare their own lives with that of others they develop compassion for others.
Application of knowledge and skills
In school, children rarely get the opportunity to see how the topics they’re learning can be applied in the real world. However, when volunteering, they learn how organizing tasks and understanding basic concepts (e.g. counting change) play a vital role in a successful venture.
Volunteering can also help kids visualize what they might want to do one day. For example, a child who volunteers at the local hospital or nursing home might be inspired to become a physician or nurse.
Making connections with their family and others
Busy families often have such frazzled schedules with work, school and extra-curricular activities, it often leaves both parents and kids feeling disconnected. When parents and their children are working together as volunteers for their community they have a chance to have fun and to grow closer as a family.
Ever notice how your kids will jump at the chance to help out their friends’ parents when they’re visiting them, but you have to nag to get them to do the same thing at home?
You’re not the only one!
You can put this tendency to good use…when someone is counting on your kid to be there as a volunteer, they’re much more engaged and desirous of doing what they’ve said they would do, which reinforces all the “responsibility” talk they’ve been getting from you!
If you’d like to get your family involved in volunteering efforts, but aren’t sure where to begin, here’s some ideas to get you started.:
Reach out to local hospitals, churches or charities to see if they have any needs
Contact a volunteer clearinghouse, (e.g. VolunteerMatch) which matches volunteers with organizations in need of volunteers.
Check with the bulletin board at the local library to look for any advertisements. You could also put up an ad yourself, notifying your openness to volunteering opportunities.
Check with the park service or whomever is in charge of cleaning up parks in the area…they’d love to have your help and it’s something even the smallest child can take part in.
Handy with tools? If you have older kids you could volunteer for housing repair and renovation projects (e.g. Habitat for Humanity) for low-income residents.
A community food bank or soup kitchen, nursing home or food delivery service to the elderly are good choices too – they don’t take a lot of time out of your week, but they’re very fulfilling ways to volunteer your time and energy…and lots of fun for the kids too!
Finally, remember to be flexible. Not all hours or locations will fit your schedule. If one volunteer opportunity doesn’t suit your needs, keep looking…you’ll be glad you did!