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Teaching Children to...

Teaching Children to Help Others

I am only one, but still I am one; I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; I will not refuse to do the something I can do.~ Helen Keller 

Children are never too young to learn the value and joy of helping others.

As we know, children learn by watching their parents. Take talking, for instance. We talk to our children from the time they’re babies and, after a while, they start talking back. We know that if they see us reading, chances are they will learn to love reading too. We can also model compassion and generosity. If children see us donating our time, money, and belongings, they will learn to do the same.

Volunteering Your Time

There are many charitable organizations that rely on volunteers to accomplish their missions. We can talk to our children about what issues really matter to them, what causes they would like to support. Are they concerned about the environment and pollutions? Do they want to help rescue abused or abandoned animals? Do they feel sad about elderly people who have no children or grandchildren nearby to visit them? Do they want to make children in the hospital smile and not feel so scared? Is homelessness and poverty a great concern for them? Do they want to find a cure for a particular disease that someone in your family may have? 

After identifying one or two particular causes, parents and children can do research together to identify organizations that need and welcome volunteer support from children. Here are a few ideas for finding

volunteer opportunities:

Start locally. Go to your church, temple, other religious organization, community center, school, or library to ask about local groups that support the cause(s) you’ve identified. Talk to friends, family members, coworkers, and neighbors about your area of interest. Perhaps you already know someone who is volunteering for a charity that would be a good fit for your family. Local United Ways often have volunteer listings.

Go national. Most national organizations have Web sites that will connect you to local chapters and outline their specific needs and activities that support their cause. There are also some volunteer clearinghouse Web sites where you can search for child-friendly volunteer opportunities. Here are just a few suggestions:

Go straight to the source. If your child wants to cheer up children in the hospital, visit or call a local children’s hospital with your child and ask what you can do. You may want to suggest specific activities like hosting a holiday party, doing arts and craft projects, painting the fingernails of all the girls, dressing like a clown and painting faces, or whatever your child thinks of. If your child loves animals, you could visit an animal shelter together and offer to walk the dogs once a week. Be creative! If you are sincere and are suggesting something that doesn’t make more work for the employees or other volunteers, chances are you will get a warm reception.

Making Donations

Money. Even if our children are too young for volunteer activities, they can help to raise money for their favorite cause. We can organize a family yard sale or car wash with signs letting everyone know that the proceeds will go to your preferred charity. We could suggest that our children donate a portion of their allowance or birthday money to their charity of choice. Many charities have walk-a-thons and other fundraising activities that welcome the participation of children. Even little ones can be pushed in a stroller for a charity walk.

Toys. Most of our children have more toys than they can possibly play with. Before gift-giving holidays and birthdays, we can go through our children’s toys and help them pick out 10, 20, or 30 to give away to children who don’t have any toys. Even very young children can appreciate how important it is to have toys to play with and will want to make that possible for other children. Some children have charitable birthday parties where the party guests each bring a new or gently used toy to donate to children at a homeless shelter.

Clothing. Instead of just silently sorting through our children’s outgrown clothing when they’re sleeping or otherwise occupied, go through the clothes together. We can talk about how even though the clothes don’t fit them anymore, they are still very useful to smaller children who may not have the money to go buy new clothes. Or, if children wear hand-me-down clothes too, we can talk about the benefits of recycling and reusing perfectly good clothes rather than throwing them away.

Food. Many local food pantries, soup kitchens, and homeless shelters welcome food donations. Children can organize a canned-food drive in their classroom (with your assistance and the teacher’s approval). Some organizations even welcome holiday leftovers in large quantities. Take your child with you to drop off the food so they can actually see where it’s going.

Household Goods. People moving on after spending time in a homeless shelter or transitional housing program need supplies to set up their new home. You can create and deliver “Welcome Home” baskets filled with cutlery, plates, pots and pans, paper goods, and other household goods to homeless shelters and other organizations that serve families in crisis.

We all have issues of time. Most of us have little time “on the side” so the thought of adding more to our to-do lists—even if eminently worthy—can be daunting (helping others with children, check!). But small efforts, done together, can be a good way to start, perhaps developing one new tradition. No matter what a family chooses to do to help others, we may be surprised to learn that we get just as much out of the experience as those we are helping.

Resources for You

Webinar: Raising a Socially-Responsible Child
. What kind of adult do you want your child to become? Compassionate, respectful, tolerant? These character traits are cultivated in your child from the day they are born. Join Bright Horizons and The Volunteer Family for practical advice on how every family, no matter how busy, can make a difference in the world. Tuesday, Nov. 9, 1:00 p.m. EST. For more information and to register:

\The Volunteer Family helps families to find family-friendly volunteer opportunities in their neighborhood and area of interest:

Learning Ideas at Home—Family Collection Jar:

If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody. ~ Chinese Proverb

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