We teach our children an abundance of skills, from playing well with others to respecting authority. But, are we showing them how to give back and what it means to put the needs of others above themselves?
It’s a tricky topic to discuss. Having to explain to the young minds why a dog was abandoned, why a child stays hungry or why that man doesn’t have a home. Hurt and sadness can (and does) show its face in many places, and so often, adults are eager and willing to make those situations right through giving back. What about our children, how do we teach them about the complex act of serving others?
Alan Briggs, North Carolina’s Executive Director of Feeding America Food Banks, highly values family volunteering. “In this busy world, where even a family meal is a challenge to carve out of the day, volunteering offers a chance for families to share time together, connect and learn and feel good about themselves and each other.”
That’s the reality of families today. We are all under the firm pressure of the word, “busy.” It affects many areas of our lives, especially areas that don’t fall under the category of being “necessary.” That’s where volunteering lies, in a category behind school, play dates, sports and family events.
Maureen O’Leary, Associate Director of Youth and Young Professional Engagement for the Habitat For Humanity, sees a strong benefit in family volunteering, “families have a shared experience as well as opportunities for parents to promote civic and community engagement with their children.” Hearing this may encourage families to move volunteering to the top of their priority list.
Briggs and O’Leary both provided many powerful points when it comes to family volunteering. If you have yet to thrust your children into the world of giving back, view these points and see how they would apply to your family.
Teaches Children to Problem Solve
When in the position of serving others, you’re in a position of proficiency. Those being served may look to you for guidance and expertise; this includes your children as well. They begin looking for solutions to the problems at stake. Your child may notice an empty dish at the Food Bank that needs refilling. They are quick and passionate about solving the problem, knowing that it will help others.
“When children volunteer at an early age, they tend to become more aware of needs and challenges,” O’Leary states. This quality is carried over from the volunteering space to the home or school, as well as impacting their later years.
Builds Confidence in the Children
“Children become confident that they can make an impact on their community,” O’Leary states. Kids today battle with abuse, bullying and harassment. Giving them a chance to shine and build confidence is gifting them with the ability to be fearless and self-assured. This will translate to the people and animals that are being served, a positive attitude creates a positive environment. Once the child visualizes the transformation he or she is making, that’s the moment they have faith in themselves to change the world.
Creates a Bond within the Family Unit
This goes without saying. Serving others as a family is a substantial way to create a lasting bond. It’s true, the ultimate goal here is to give back, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a little fun. Take this opportunity to laugh with your kids and make memories. “Our organization’s mission is to bring people together to build safe, affordable housing for families in need of decent shelter,” O’Leary States. Bringing your family together to build homes or feed the underprivileged is an opportunity that can’t be missed.
Exposes Children to Diversity
“Volunteering instills and reinforces the idea that you don’t have to have wealth, power or any special skills to be of benefit to others,” Briggs explains. Let’s break it down. You will be serving African-American, Caucasian, Hispanic, Chinese, People, Dogs, etc. Your children will hear different languages and see different races. They may be serving with the wealthy and the poor. Spending an hour or two on a Saturday to teach our young minds about the different cultures is a skill that will help them with the school bus, classroom and future jobs.
Children Experience the Natural High of Serving Others
Watching a smile spread across someone’s face is euphoric, knowing that you’re the one who influenced that smile is heroic. Volunteering is gratifying. You forget about yourself for this brief period of time and focus on others, this is an extremely selfless opportunity. “Some studies have shown that children have a philanthropic instinct that peaks at about age 12,” Briggs explains. “Reinforcing that instinct with the hands-on experience of helping others in need lasts a lifetime.”
If your interest is heightened and you want to look further, below are a few organizations that allow children volunteers. In addition to these National Organizations, check your local area for people and places close to home.
Where Can We Volunteer?
Habitat For Humanity