Compassion and empathy are among the most important traits that most parents hope to instill in their children. Nowhere are these qualities more easily gained and nurtured than in the realm of volunteer work and community service. While it is helpful for children to see their parents contributing to their community through volunteerism, the true personal worth of such activities must be experienced first hand to be fully understood. For this reason, engaging your children in volunteering and acts of service at an early age will benefit them in both the short and long-term.
Volunteering helps build character and teaches children that they can make a difference and affect positive change in their community and the world. Children can begin to learn and practice acts of service at an early age, and should be encouraged to do things for others with no expectation of personal gain as soon as they are able to comprehend such concepts.
There are four key points you’ll want to consider as you set out to engage your child in volunteer service.
Formulate goals and be clear in your own mind about your motives as well as your expectations for your child. This is a step that people often skip and it is essential in providing the best possible experience for everyone involved.
- Choose a cause that is meaningful to your family and a non-profit or service agency in your community that is familiar and comfortable with engaging younger volunteers. Don’t be afraid to talk with the organization’s volunteer coordinators specifically about their needs and service opportunities.
- Select age-appropriate activities, keeping in mind that especially with younger children, you want to be sure that they are engaging in activities where you child can see clear and immediate results from their work.
- Talk with your child beforehand about the opportunity to help others, why it matter to you and what you hope to do by volunteering with this agency or organization. Use simple, straightforward language and age-appropriate concepts as opposed to trying to explain over-arching goals which may be more abstract.
Finally, if your first activity or volunteer experience does not go as planned, that’s ok. Remember that you are working to instill life-long qualities in your child and no single event or task can do that. As you engage with your family in volunteer work, over time, chances are the personal rewards and sense of community you hope to teach them will take hold.