With the recent crisis in Haiti, helping others in need is in the forefront of the minds of many people, including our children. In our “me-oriented” society, how can we help our children learn to care about others, want to help those in need around us, and even to understand the concept that there are many around us who often go without even the basic necessities of life and/or are facing life-threatening illnesses?
Recently I was sitting with a group of Mom friends and one of the women commented that she wondered how she could avoid having her kids grow up being spoiled or self-centered and we discussed ideas around how to help our children become more altruistic. I immediately thought about how rewarding it has been to do volunteer activities with my children.
Children can start volunteering at any age and although it will require patience at times, it definitely can be a rewarding experience. Personally, my son had his first volunteer stint at the age of 6 months when he was my charming assistant at a Salvation Army Kettle and now, at 5 years old, he has completed his 6th year of service. He is now in charge of the bells and politely smiles and thanks everyone who donates and says “Merry Christmas” or “Have a nice day” to all of the passers by with undying enthusiasm.
There are many things we have done throughout the years, which have been great experiences for us and have helped those in need. There are so many creative ideas for children to get involved in their communities that are age appropriate and safe for children that go beyond the standard soup kitchen, which is often not a safe environment for young children.
Some ideas that have been successful for us have been:
- Making beds and setting tables for “Inn From the Cold”, a travelling shelter that is often run through churches.
- 5K charity walk/runs – an added bonus is getting into great shape
- Salvation Army Kettles
- Taking a toy or toys to a toy drive
- Delivering food to the Food Bank or Meals on Wheels
- Making cookies/desserts for volunteer groups in the community
- Singing at a Seniors home at Christmas
- Some jobs with Habitat for Humanity can be appropriate for older children
- Taking gently used clothes or toys to a Women’s shelter
- Organizing food donations in the food bank storage area
Important things to consider when choosing a volunteer opportunity are:
- Assess your child – consider the age and maturity of your child when choosing an opportunity. For example – How well do they respond to people who may be ill or who may not look or smell “nice”?
- Limit your time – I would suggest limiting your volunteer time to less than 2 hours at a time for very young children. We found this out the hard way when I accepted a volunteer position at a Salvation Army kettle position for 3 hours – my son, then 4 years old did great until the 2 hour mark at which point, he melted down.
- Check suitability – If you are not sure about the appropriateness of the volunteer opportunity, ask for a tour of the facility or a dry run, if appropriate.
- Link up with other parents – If you are considering a 5K walk/run consider going with another family as this can be a great playdate and the kids can motivate each other to keep going.
The amazing thing about volunteering is that you think that you are the one who is giving, but the reward to yourself and your child is gratitude for all that you have and the gift of making valuable memories as you share a meaningful activity together.