Many people celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day yesterday by participating in a day of service. Even if you didn’t, the great thing is that there are volunteer opportunities year-round. That is why I’m discussing how to encourage your kids to volunteer and give back. Below are answers to some questions that moms have asked me about the topic over the years…
Q: When should I start?
A: As soon as possible. Since my kids were toddlers, they have helped separate clothes and toys to give away to smaller friends and/or charity. I remember one time when we were dropping things off to the Salvation Army. It was closed, so my husband Reggie went to put the items in the truck. Michael (who was around 3) was so upset because he wanted to go inside and meet “Charity”. He thought charity was a person!
Q: Where are some places which accept kid volunteers?
A: It varies depending on where you live. If you have a car, I suggest my family’s annual tradition – delivering meals for God’s Love We Deliver. In NYC, New York Cares offers youth volunteering opportunities for kids (ages 6 and up) and teens (14+). My friend Anna (Mommy Poppins) also has a great post on her site, 18 Ways Families Can Volunteer and Donate in NYC for the Holidays, which shares volunteer activities that allow children to help. Churches, soup kitchens, and senior centers are also great places to check.
In addition to giving to traditional charities consider giving (time, energy, money and/or attention) to someone directly. There is usually someone in our families, neighborhoods, churches and/or various organizations that we are part of that won’t ask for help but who would surely appreciate it. Babysit for a single parent and have your kids help entertain the kids. Go visit an elderly person who doesn’t get a lot of company. Giving isn’t exclusive to certified nonprofits or certain times of the year.
Q: Why is it important to help kids develop in this area?
A. I’m no “expert’, but I have my thoughts.
1. It helps kids to be less entitled and more grateful. After volunteering at soup kitchens or at a transitional home/shelter with kids their own age, my kids have seen how good they really have it in life. It’s not based on anything that they have done. Kids don’t choose which families they are born into. Rather, time and chance are the only reasons that they aren’t in the same situation. (Ecclesiastes 9:11)
2. It teaches empathy. For an expert take, you can read my post The 4 Best Ways to Teach Your Kids to Be Empathetic People with tips from parenting expert Dr. Michele Borba, the author of UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World.
3. Last, but not least, my husband and I are Christians. For us, giving to others is just a way to say “thank you” to God for all that He has given to us. Also, we don’t think that it’s optional for Christians not to give to the poor if they are able to do so. (Matthew 6:2-3).
Q: What are some things to watch out for?
A: There are a few things that have come up over the years.
1. Make sure that you are giving away good things. At times, my kids have put raggedy items (clothes with holes, books with missing pages, games with missing pieces, etc.) in the donation pile. We had to ask questions like, “Would you want that?” “Would you give that to someone you love?” New, almost new, or gently used items are the only ones that should make the cut!
2. Help them learn not to expect anything in return. For some reason, people tend to want to give gifts (especially food and money) to our sons when we are out volunteering. That’s sweet and all but we don’t ever let them accept the money. Giving is the pay.
3. Don’t volunteer or give things to others to receive praise. Period.
On a related note, I go back and forth about sharing charitable activities on social media. On the one side, there is my faith and my family. We just do things and don’t talk about it. (Matthew 6:1-4) On the other side is the power of social media to raise awareness about important causes. Charities actually ask that you share on social media (not faces or identifying information about those who are being helped though). I know that my sharing about charities has caused others to volunteer, donate (time, money, and even blood) and refer those charities to their families and friends. What to do? What to do? Right now, I do both. I do things for individuals privately but I share about charities publicly. That might change in the future, but for now, that is what feels right in my heart.
In any event, I hope these answers were helpful. We need more givers…kids and adults alike!