10 Tips to Raising Service-Oriented, Giving, and Charitable Children
Growing up, I remember feeling frustrated when my parents dragged me from service project to service project, forcing me to give up precious time with my friends and, let's face it, even more invaluable time sitting on the couch watching tv LOL! I was convinced my parents were service-a-holics. And what that meant for their six children, especially me being the oldest, was a life of indentured servitude... or so I thought.
Now, with two children of my own, I have realized that my parents taught me one of the most powerful lessons a parent could teach—a knowledge and a love of service. So, now as I "drag" my own children from project to project, I have wondered what, exactly, it was that my parents did that helped me turn my drudgery for service into a passion.
Here are 10 tips I have extrapolated from their parenting that I hope to instill in my children.
1. Serve With Your Children. Serving side by side with your children is one of the most powerful teachers of how to serve all while bringing the family closer. While kids may complain, the bonding time you share sticks in their memories as a positive experience. When they have children of their own and search for ways in which to bond with their children, they will want to repeat the positive experiences they had as a child and the cycle will continue.
- One of my most memorable service projects as a child was a family picnic where my dad did all the service. My dad was the president of our local Rotary Club and they were raising money to wipe out Polio. I was 10 years old and remember the hot Arizona day, watching my dad prepare the dutch oven luncheon for the event and him talking to me at length about Polio, explaining why the Rotary Club was focused on raising money to eradicate it, and the importance of my participation. I felt important! I didn't do a thing but talk to my dad and eat the picnic lunch, but I felt I had made a huge difference for mankind.
2. Talk to Your Children About Giving and Sharing. When you are not able to serve side by side with your children, share in detail your experiences after the event. Specifically, help them understand the need, how you helped to meet the need, and why your giving and sharing was so important. If you can, take pictures or video and share it with them. Your excitement for your volunteering will be contagious!
3. Choose Service Activities Your Children Are Passionate About. Service activities come in many shapes and sizes. Identify what is important to your children and choose activities and causes that fit with their interests. Some suggestions include animals, the environment, children will illnesses, an illness a family member suffers from, etc.
4. Choose a Cause That Taps In to Your Child's Talents, Skills, & Abilities. Does your child play a musical instrument? Does she like to do arts and crafts? Is he good at weeding or picking up trash? Can she make homemade greeting cards? Can he sing in a group? Nursing homes is just one example of a place that allows kids to visit and share who they are with others. This act of sharing and giving boosts self esteem and helps children learn that their talents, skills, and abilities can be used for good.
5. Tie Everyday Tasks Into Service. Make service an everyday activity and giving a constant thought by reinforcing these concepts in simple things like sharing toys, taking turns, secretly doing a sibling's chores, giving family members hugs and kisses, etc. You can do this by saying things like: "Johnny, great job at sharing your toys with Billy. That shows that you are a giving person." To help kids recognize the many ways to serve, create a Giving Chart, where they identify either in written or drawing format things they can do on a daily basis to serve those around them.
6. Show Gratitude. Helping kids recognize and show appreciation for things they are grateful for is an important aspect of service. Involve your children in gratitude activities such as keeping a gratitude journal or art book; going on gratitude walks; keeping a Daily Gratitude Chart on the refrigerator where you, as a family, can list your blessings; and having activities such as sitting in a circle and sharing what you are grateful for about the person sitting to your right. Check out Fishful Thinking for their Grateful Sayings activity.
7. Add an Aspect of Giving to Holidays & Events. The Christmas and Hanukkah season is a terrific and natural time to give to others, but you can add a touch of service during many other events as well. For example, many people are now donating their birthday gifts to charity.
- When I was 11 years old, my parents enlisted our help in doing the 12 Days of Christmas for a family whose mom was dying of breast cancer. Together, we picked out all of the gifts, items that would help the family feel joy during the holiday season. We created a strategy for how we would anonymously deliver the gifts. Then, we created a schedule of which family member would take responsibility for various tasks: wrapping the gifts, delivering them, etc. Each day, we huddled together after it got dark to work on our tasks and carry out the project. I will always remember that as one of the best Christmases. Not surprisingly, I don't recall what I received for my gifts that year.
8. Serve even when you're away from home. What a better way to get to know and bond with a destination location than to serve it or its community? If you'll be away on a long trip, you can arrange a project through an organization. Nearly every major city has a homeless shelter or rescue mission, for example. For shorter stays, simple tasks like picking up garbage at a park and smiling at strangers on the street can make a big difference. Before going on a trip, plan as a family by answering the question: What can we do to give back to the towns and people we'll be visiting?
- When I was 12 years old, my parents gave me the wonderful opportunity of visiting their friends in Costa Rica for the summer and encouraged me to do a service project before I left. I planned and ran a bake sale with the help of some of my church friends. I raised a whopping $30, which felt like a million bucks! Once I arrived, Silvia, the mom of the family I was staying with, took me all by myself to the grocery store where we purchases items for three families—food that would help them survive for 6 months. The most memorable part of my summer was delivering the food to the three families, crying with them as they humbly accepted it, and gaining a stark realization at the age of 12 of how other people suffer and that I had the power to make a huge difference. I count that as one of the most fortunate experiences I've ever had and thank my parents for ensuring it happened.
9. Do Unto Others as They Need You to Do Unto Them. What's valuable to teach your kids about service is that everyone needs to be loved in different ways and that finding out and meeting their needs is most important. While some people need your undivided attention, others need a quick smile or hug. Still others may need a meal brought in (and yes, kids can and should help with that!) or their houses cleaned. When you look at a person and ask yourself and your child: What need does that person have and how can we meet it, you are getting at the heart of selfless service.
10. Emphasize the Role of Money in Charity. Giving includes all sorts of things, many of which do not cost a cent. A child can donate old toys, clothes, or art supplies to organizations that need them. But, since charities also require money to operate, volunteer opportunities and causes that require money offer a wonderful way to teach children about its value. For example, just as you can teach kids to save by reserving a percentage of their allowances for a savings account, you can also have them put aside a specific amount for a giving account. Turn this into a craft activity where they get to decorate three cans or envelopes, labeling them: "Spending," "Saving," and "Giving".
For some great child-oriented service projects, read http://www.parents.com/family-life/work-money-politics/volunteering-philanthropy/10-kid-oriented-causes/.
(Top photo used with permission from Flickr.)