Raising Charitable Kids

by | Dec 2, 2010 | Character and Moral Intelligence, Empathy and Kindness, Parenting

Parenting advice to encourage kids to lend a hand, do service, and make the world a kinder place

The TODAY Show asked me to share parenting advice that will encourage kids to catch that glorious “Volunteer Spirit.” I’ll share more tips this Friday, December 3 during the 8 am hour on TODAY. You’ll also meet an incredible high school student who is clearly making a difference in the world with her own unique service project. I’ll try to post that link after the segment on Friday.

Our Greatest Parenting Test

Perhaps the greatest parenting test when our children are grown will be to ask, “Does my adult child have a kind heart as well as strong mind?” We want our children to be compassionate, considerate, and sensitive to the feelings and views of others. We want our kids to be charitable, to champion the underdog, and volunteer willingly to help others in need. (Or so I hope!) Research also tells us a significant point: It is never too early–or too late–to instill in our children the value of caring and oh what an impact the right service experience can have.

The fact is, the more our children practice caring behaviors, the better they’ll feel about themselves and the better others will feel about them. Doing charitable deeds is one of the best ways to enhance our children’s self-esteem and feelings of self-worth. Studies also show that getting kids into the “Volunteer Spirit” has other positive benefits including boosting their immune system, lowering their risk of depression, enhancing emotional intelligence and empathy, and nurturing those glorious character traits such as compassion, perseverance, and charity. The right service projects can also expand our children’s awareness and acceptance of differences . The more children do charitable deeds, you’ll find they can’t get enough: Giving becomes contagious! They’ll start going out of their way to perform more caring and charitable acts.

Seven Ways to Encourage Kids to Lend a Hand

Of course, the biggest trick is often getting kids started on the giving path. It’s best to ease them in and keep the right perspective. The goal of service projects is not about helping kids win Nobel Peace Prizes or doing something to look good on their resumes. Service projects and charitable acts are about providing children with opportunities to experience goodness.

There are also no right or wrong type projects but ones that stretch compassion typically are personally meaningful and “hands-on” so kids see the direct fruits of their results. Here are ways to encourage kids to lend a hand and show others they care – and maybe even think this was “their” idea –not yours.

1. Be a charitable role model. Studies show that if parents are generous and giving, kids are likely to adopt those qualities. So show your child the joy you reap by giving. Make sure to explain the deeds’ impact: “I felt so good giving those cookies to Mrs. Smith. She looked so happy!” Ask yourself right now: “What examples are my children seeing in my behaviors?”

2. Offer choices. One trick to ease them into charitable deeds is getting kids to think the project is their idea, not yours. Ask your kids for their ideas and have them brainstorm options.“ What can we do to help the community?” A net-savvy teen can go online and do research.

3. Mobilize friends. Many kids enjoy volunteering with friends, so ask your child if she’d like to do her project with someone.  Some kids like to form a club that might include neighborhood kids, classmates, their scout troop, church members or just friends.

4. Match interests and strengths. Help your kids choose something they’re good at as well as enjoy doing. For instance: If he enjoys reading: read letters for the blind. If she enjoys writing: be a pen pal to an overseas orphan. If he loves sports: volunteer for the Special Olympics. If she enjoys knitting: knit a beanie for a soldier. A 2009 survey by Harris Interactive finds that the most popular community service projects among tweets and teens are: helping children in need; advocating for the environment; and supporting homeless people. Match your teen’s interests to that project!

5. Explore your neighborhood: Often the best projects are in your own backyard and research shows that face-to-face charity increases our kids’ compassion. So check the local newspaper for possible service activities: the local soup kitchen might need help or the elementary school wants tutors. Look in your own backyard: the elderly next-door neighbor might need her leaves raked.

6. Plan for successful sessions. Help your child plan for successful volunteer sessions. Suppose your child is tutoring a child in math, ask her: “What do you need to make the session go well?” She may want to make a few flash cards to teach the math facts or bring cookies and juice as a treat. Set aside a large box or basket for her to put all the items she’ll need for her project. Then she can just pick it up and take it with her on the planned day. It will help organize her efforts.

7. Celebrate efforts. Whether your child volunteers once a year or once a week, support his efforts and affirm that he’s helping to make his world a better place.

Family Goodwill Hunting

Families everywhere are taking time to volunteer their energy and resources to help make our world a better place. By watching their parents’ examples, kids are “catching their charitable spirit” and realizing their parents passionately value doing service. There are dozens of ways to get involved, lend a hand, volunteer, or show you care as a family. Here are a few ideas other parents shared with me on how they’re modeling the importance of compassion and charity to their children:

A San Francisco family spends a week-end each year to help paint battered women’s shelters.

In San Jose a mom and her daughters spend one hour a week making batches of peanut butter sandwiches, and deliver them to a homeless shelter.

In Denver a father and his sons deliver meals to an AIDS hospice one Sunday each month.

In Wichita a group of families collect toys, clothes and pennies from neighbors, and then bring them to shelters for battered and abused children.

In Seattle a family volunteers to work Thanksgiving mornings serving meals to the homeless.

In Atlanta the children in a family donate part of their weekly allowances to send to a six-year-old orphan in Bombay they’re sponsoring through Save the Children.

In Palm Springs my husband and sons spend a day in October waking up at four o’clock to help set up a race course through our local streets. Profits from the event go to needy children.

What are you and your family doing to help your children lend a hand and make the world a better place?

Think big, start small, but please take that first step!

Dr. Michele Borba, Parenting Expert

For more Practical Parenting Advice follow me on twitter @MicheleBorba or refer to my daily blog, Dr. Michele Borba’ Reality Check. You can also find dozens of research-based and practical tips to raise strong kids from the inside out in my latest book, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions. Portions of this blog were adapted from my book, Building Moral Intelligence: The Seven Essential Habits That Teach Kids to Do the Right Thing.