Children can begin volunteering at any age. The earlier a volunteering lifestyle is introduced, the more likely children are to embrace it as a normal part of their everyday lives.
The benefits of volunteering are numerous. Volunteering teaches children to see beyond the limits of their own daily routines. (Toddlers, for instance, have a tendency to be a little…self-absorbed. I know this is shocking news to those of you who are currently raising toddlers.) Volunteering teaches compassion, gratitude, and kindness. Volunteering helps kids to realize that even the smallest things they do can add up to a big difference, even if you can’t see that change today. Volunteering teaches kids to slow down and appreciate that not everything gives instant gratification.
How to help your kids find their volunteering groove:
- Pick something small and easy to start. You don’t need to build a house or dig a well. For younger kids, pick something that lets them get hands on, such as picking up trash or working in a garden. You don’t even have to go through an organization and you do not need to invest hours; create your own 30 minute project to clean up a park in your neighborhood or to visit a senior living home. The easier you make it on yourself, the more likely you will be to do it again.
- Hype it up beforehand. Spend the week “practicing” whatever you will be doing as your volunteering project. This gives kids a feeling of control over the unexpected, and makes them feel like experts before they even get started, which is a great confidence booster. Be sure to also explain why you are doing a particular project (“we’re cleaning the park so that people feel happy when they see such a beautiful place”). You can even give your designated day a special name, such as “Helping Hands Day” or “I Heart Helping Day” to reinforce the importance.
- Keep your own enthusiasm levels high. Kids take cues from their parents, and if they overhear you say how you don’t really have the time to volunteer, or you roll your eyes when you talk about the time it will take, your kids will pick up on your attitude. Instead, let your kids “overhear” you talking to another adult about how excited you are to be participating is such an important project with your children.
Of course, one of the biggest benefits to family volunteering is the actual time spent together as a family. So pick your cause and take the first step!