The pressure to raise a high achieving, conscientious and contributing child can overshadow the benefits of giving back as an individual or family. When we help others, we are reminded of what we have and don’t have in life. It is an opportunity to teach our children what life is really about and how we can contribute for the betterment of our community and world. Helping excites emotions of empathy, joy, guilt, and often leaves us motivated to do more. But understanding these emotions and convictions isn’t intuitive.
So when is the right time to teach our kids about giving, and what are some of the steps we can take to connect them with opportunities to help in the community?
Research has shown that a child can start determining right from wrong by the age of 6 months, and by the age of 15 months, a child realizes for every action there is a reaction. A person drops something and the child – not yet walking – crawls over, picks it up, and gives it back. Now that we know there is reason to believe every child has the capability to grow up and give back, let’s take time to allow our kids to grow into the opportunities to contribute.
Beyond the physical action of committing to a specific organization, each day you can find ways to excite the emotional, mindfulness of your children just by presenting positive experiences. By doing so you are exciting the intuitive mindset; understanding that a child will care for what they love, or feel a positive connection towards. Ask for help and empower their minds to think creatively about how they can solve a situation. Little helpers become creative thought leaders so guide the process and provide age-appropriate opportunities that work for your family.
For example, without joining an organization you can model helpful behavior for your kids under five just by picking up trash on the sidewalk as you make your way to the park; holding open the door for the next person as you walk into a store; or taking the shopping cart back for the person parked next to you at the grocery store. Children mirror what they see and these early interactions will allow them to experience a positive reaction, thankfulness.
Next time you are on a hike with your three year old talk to them about keeping the trails clean so the plants and animals will stay healthy. Bring an extra bag to pick up any trash and then talk about the best way to discard it. The walk is healthy and you are teaching your child about environmental stewardship in a joyful way.
For children under five years old the opportunity to give and contribute is within daily activities and experiences so identify activities that tap into interests as well. Like art!
Next time you host the play-date or birthday party try infusing crafts into the celebration. Decorate cards then string them up and donate to your community nursing home or Veteran’s hospital. By the time your children reach the age of six or older bring them to the nursing home to deliver the gifts. Click here for some great recycle craft ideas!
Many elderly people are part of an Adopt-a-Grandparent program and the activities provide opportunities for younger children to visit, sing, read, participate in crafts, and hear stories of times we don’t even think about anymore. These are also opportunities for children to connect in a safe environment and learn respect for adults.
From friendly visits to dog walks, young children can give back without the pressure of “saving the world” so acknowledge these sweet moments as real learning experiences. And remember to be patient; new experiences can take a child out of their comfort zone. Other ways you can help connect your young child/children to giving back are:
Baking or bringing a meal for a friend or family – Next time a new baby arrives, a friend is sick, or you know of a friend-in-need ask your child to help pack a welcome meal or package then deliver together.
Walk the dog, take out the trash, water the lawn – The simple gesture to a friend or family member will receive gratitude and it will impact the way a child sees themselves in relation to others.
When children reach school age, allow them to participate in organizations like Girl and Boy Scouts, which provide necessary training for various activities. These organizations also work closely to ensure the safety of your children while also teaching leadership skills.
Additional opportunities include:
Serving at a Soup Kitchen – Through your church or civic organization, check the minimum age requirement and chaperon the experience. The lesson is powerful; be prepared to discuss mental health to financial matters with your children.
Babysitting at Sunday School – Helping out within a familiar environment builds a sense of pride and community. Your child will also receive feedback from others, which helps reinforce good character and a contributive mindset.
By the time your children reach tween to teen years you might even consider an international trip to help build a library, latrines, or work building new homes for communities-in-need. With the holidays fast approaching take a moment to identify something you can do as a family and get ready to make it a tradition!