Parents dream of raising a child who makes the world a better place but for many, it’s hard to imagine their own offspring actually going out and doing just that. Parents should take heart, however, for they may just be the key to creating the next Nobel Peace Prize winner.
In today’s highly scheduled world, parents often underestimate their kids’ desire to make a difference. Volunteering helps kids understand that they are part of the community and it’s helpful for them to recognize that they can make a contribution to other people.
The good news is that today there are more opportunities than ever to get kids involved in community service. You can play an important role in encouraging your child’s interest in helping others. Once kids see that they can make a contribution to the world around them, there’s often no stopping them. And while putting your child on the right track to better themselves and the world around them can be challenging, there are some simple things parents can do:
- Be a role model to your children. Even if you have limited time to volunteer yourself, consider how you talk about others. Praise people who are making a difference and show tolerance for those who make mistakes.
- Teach kids to help others starting at a young age. Volunteering is a very important part of the developmental growth process. Even preschool children can learn to contribute around the house, share and help siblings. Starting around first grade, encourage volunteer activities outside the family. You can make many of these activities ones that you do together as family members. Depending on the child’s age and interests, volunteering might include playing with dogs at a local animal shelter, assisting at the local library or walking to fight disease. Check your local United Way for listings of volunteer activities.
- Keep in mind that as your children enter their pre-teen years, they often become self-conscious and concerned with how they look. Investigate ways in which pre-teens can make a difference anonymously, such as participating in an activity in a nearby community rather than right in the neighborhood.
- Encouraging your child to take part in a youth program is another great way to get them involved, particularly as it provides structure and incentive for volunteering. For example, the free Start Something program from Target and the Tiger Woods Foundation has enrolled more than 2.9 million youth and awarded more than $1 million in scholarship funds to kids who are reaching for their dreams and making the world a better place. Find out more at www.target.com/startsomething or call (800)316-6142.
- As you plan, help your child set aside regular time for volunteer activities, such as taking part in a community cleanup day. Committing a couple of hours per week is a good, attainable goal and should prevent kids from feeling overwhelmed by heavy scheduling. It can go in waves but there should be a definite commitment. Keep looking for volunteer efforts that you can do together to keep kids motivated.
- Talk about local, national and international issues that your child may want to help address. For example, your child can help address the issue of hunger by collecting canned food for a local homeless shelter. Or your family might want to take action together to support relief efforts for a natural disaster overseas.
- Help your child find a role model to whom he or she can relate. It does not have to be Nobel Peace Prize winner Albert Schweitzer but it should be someone who is making a practical contribution. Consider some local people known for their efforts or even highlight family members who do things for others.
- Most important, get them started. Altruism can be nurtured. Once kids see they can make a difference, they may want to do more. And in helping others, they also help themselves by expanding their own awareness of the world.