With selfies, blogs, Facebook pages, and photos and videos that document our every move, it’s kind of ironic that self-awareness—the kind of insight that leads to empathy, self-worth and the ability to see ourselves as part of the bigger picture—seems to be diminishing with each generation.
The good news is that there’s a way to improve self-awareness that can last a lifetime. No, it’s not a new-fangled child-rearing philosophy or years of therapy. Just good, old-fashioned volunteering. It’s free, it’s needed everywhere, and it builds real, lasting values like civic responsibility, self-esteem and generosity.
Tips to Serving the Community Family-Style
The goal is to make volunteering a part of family life, not a one-time event. Make it a priority and get the whole family on board with kid-friendly tips and ideas.
When children are very young, choose an activity they can easily grasp, like picking up litter, making cards for sick children or delivering gifts to nursing home residents. High school-age children may find tutoring or mentoring younger children more rewarding. Just make sure your child can participate fully in whatever activity you choose.
If your daughter loves animals, volunteering at an animal shelter could be an awesome way to spend the day. Or maybe your son is a chef in training. At Ronald McDonald House Charities, you can cook meals for families away from home. Before you choose any volunteer activity, ask your child what he’d like to do and give him options that incorporate his interests and talents.
Choose a day every week, month or year and put it on your family calendar. It’s tempting to try and squeeze in volunteer work at the last minute, but too often it gets bumped by lessons, sports or social commitments. Whether your family volunteers every year at a fundraiser or makes a weekly date to walk shelter dogs, put it on the calendar and make it a priority.
When children understand why what they are doing is important, it gives them a greater sense of self-worth and teaches them about important life lessons and social issues. It also helps them appreciate the importance of volunteering and its impact on the community.
Many organizations have minimum age restrictions of 12, 13 or even 18. Before you choose a volunteer activity, make sure your child is old enough to participate. There are plenty of options where age is not an issue, such as walkathons and fundraising activities.
Show your child how his or her specific efforts impact the lives of others. Take her on a field trip to a working food bank if you’re donating food, or visit an animal shelter to see how the money he raised for dogs and cats is spent. And don’t forget to explain the far-reaching, less obvious benefits—how the food you donated may have helped a child focus in school, or how the walkathon she walked in helps thousands of sick people get the medicine they need.
If you’re looking for specific ways to volunteer with your kids, here are some activities that are appropriate for almost any age:
Clean up your community. Find a cleanup day in your community, or organize one yourself. If you live near a river, American Rivers has a searchable database of nationwide cleanup days. Or contact your neighborhood park office or local government to see if there’s a cleanup day near you.
Grow to give. Plant a garden of vegetables together to harvest for your local food pantry. Not only will you be giving to others; you’ll also be teaching useful gardening skills and spending time outside together as a family.
Visit a nursing home. Teach your children incredible lessons in communication, compassion and relationship building by visiting a nursing home. Many homes allow children of all ages to visit. Just make sure you call beforehand to make the arrangements.
Send your support. Show military men and women far from home that you appreciate their service by writing letters, drawing pictures or helping to put together care packages.
So turn off the computer, leave the video games at home and show your child the importance of helping others. And who knows? Maybe you’ll even inspire other families to do the same.