Kids and volunteering: Good for others, good for them

Ask most parents what they wish for their children, and the answer usually is, “health and happiness”.  Then it seems we spend the rest of our lives doing all we can to ensure our wishes come true.

Keeping them healthy is pretty clear cut. Making sure they have all their medical and dental check-ups, feeding them nutritious meals, being alert and observant about any changes in emotional or physical behaviors, and symptoms like fevers and rashes.

Where we most often go wrong is with our attempts to bring them happiness. We constantly tell them how much they’re loved, how talented, and how special they are; and we give them “things.” Lots of things like the newest phones, the hottest games, and the most up-to-date clothes and sneakers.

Our intentions to bring them happiness may be good, but some of our methods may be way off base - and even worst, counterproductive and possibly destructive. We can’t make our children happy, no matter how much we wish or hard we try – and just what does bring happiness?

Here’s some brilliant insight that has stood the test of time. Aristotle wrote, “What is the essence of life? To serve others and to do good.” (384-322 BC). Winston Churchill said, “You make a living by what you get, but you make a life by what you give.” What is this telling us? One way to bring your children happiness is to give them opportunities to help others.

In case you need “scientific” proof, there’s a growing body of evidence demonstrating the connection between helping others and both mental and physical health. In a recent study conducted by Suzanne Richards, PhD, from the University of Exeter Medical School in the UK, she found that volunteers had lower levels of depression, increased life satisfaction, and enhanced well-being; and this isn’t only true for adults.

Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of California – Riverside, and author of several books on happiness, found that middle-school students asked to perform three acts of kindness a week for a month were not only happier, but more popular among their classmates even if the acts were done outside of school. She co-authored this guide about getting kids started on doing acts of kindness.

While parents can’t hand over happiness all wrapped up, they can do something far more effective that will last their children a lifetime. Parents can help their children experience the joys and benefits of helping others first-hand by volunteering. I guarantee this “gift” to your children will outlast anything you can buy and with summer vacation only a few days away, now is the perfect time to start.

While some children will jump right into the “giving” spirit enthusiastically

collecting items, raising funds, or doing community service; others, especially adolescents, may need some convincing. Whichever the case, the first step is to help your children find the service projects or volunteer opportunities that match their special interests, talents, schedules, and temperaments. If they seem a bit hesitant or unsure of themselves, remember there’s comfort in numbers and consider something that can be done with friends or even better as a family

What’s in it for them?

If you need a bit more evidence to win them over, tell them by volunteering they’re helping themselves just as much as helping others.

They will:

  • Meet new friends from different neighborhoods, cultures, backgrounds and economic levels.    
  • Gain important skills and experience that will help later in life
  • Learn skills and make connections that can lead to a job or career
    • Build confidence and self-esteem
    • Make their school, town, and the world better  

How should they help?

That depends on their interests, talents, strengths, and comfort levels:

  • Readers can volunteer at the local library
  • Pet lovers can gather supplies for pet shelters
  • Athletes can help out with community sports teams
  • Techies can teach seniors how to stay connected with family and friends by emailing, texting, and sharing photos
  • Organizers can hold a neighborhood clothing, food, book drive, or bake sale
  • Scientists and mathematicians can tutor at a community center
  • Socialites can arrange a barbeque and ask guests to bring an item to donate to a designated charity (kids can do the same thing at their next birthday party – and so can you!).

Need more ideas?

Team up with an organization:

National Resources:

Kids Caring 4 Kids

Compassionate Kids

Volunteer Match (offers kid-friendly opportunities)

Philadelphia Resources:

Cradles to Crayons


Greater Philadelphia Cares

Kids 4 Change

Put volunteering on your kids summer “to do” lists, right up there with trips to the shore, picnics, lazy days, and sleeping in late. Then you can count on a summer that will not only change their lives, but the lives of others. What could be better?


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