The following post is courtesy of Nancy Parker who blogs at http://www.enannysource.com/blog/
We all hope our children will grow up to be the kind of adults that reach out a helping hand to those less fortunate. However, a service attitude doesn’t just happen; it has to be given ample chances to take root and grow strong.
Parents can have a profound impact on nurturing that attitude in their children. Here are a few ways you can help your child develop a service attitude that will stay with them throughout their lifetime.
Model a giving heart. Children learn best by watching those they love and respect. If you want your child to truly value helping others, show him that’s it’s important to you through your own words and actions. Find a cause that you’re passionate about and get involved in whatever way you can. It doesn’t always have to be a hands-on project; there are many support jobs that make the direct work possible. Maybe your cause is best served by working on the fundraising committee, or folding and mailing out newsletters, or managing the volunteers. Whatever you do, talk about it with your child and involve him whenever possible. Let him know how your actions help others and share the benefits you get by being part of the project.
Promote the idea that one person can make a difference. Many people today are pessimistic about the impact that one person can have. But the belief that one person who gives from the heart can make a real difference in the world is at the heart of the service attitude. Instill and nurture the belief that your child can make the world a better place. Seek out news stories that spotlight people, especially children, who have taken positive actions around an idea they believe in. Read books where the hero is kind and loving towards others. Celebrate small victories and acknowledge that every big victory started with one step. Focus on what you can accomplish rather than what you can’t. Starting a compost project in your neighborhood won’t stop global warming, but it will contribute to a sustainable community. Working a shift at a homeless shelter won’t end homelessness, but it will help local people get a night’s sleep away from the cold and rain. Empower your child to see and embrace the possibilities.
Give your child the opportunity to get involved in a real way. We often don’t let young children participate in volunteer projects because we want to protect them from the harsh realities of the world. However, most children are able to handle much more than we think they can. Children are able to see past the problems and connect with the people affected. There are many volunteer opportunities that welcome children and help parents explain the issue in age appropriate ways. You and your child can volunteer to serve meals at a homeless shelter, visit isolated seniors in a nursing home, collect winter coats for foster children, or work a shift at a pet adoption day. What you do isn’t important. Taking the time to volunteer on a regular basis is what counts.
Encourage giving with everyday actions. While volunteer projects are a great way to introduce your child to helping others, a true service attitude is something that’s present every day. Get in the habit of joining with your child to think of ways you can help others in your everyday world. Carry a supply of water bottles and granola bars in your car and hand them out to the homeless people standing on street corners. Purge the play room and closets on a regular basis and donate the toys and clothes that aren’t being used. Pick up trash off the sidewalk and put it in the street side trash can. Give up your seat on the train to an elderly person. Return a shopping cart to the store front for a mom with young kids. Ask a child who’s sitting on the sidelines if he’d like to join in the game. There are endless opportunities throughout the day for both you and your child to help others.
Start a gratitude habit. Studies show that people who are grateful for what they have, whatever that may be, are more likely to be happy in their lives. Being grateful also helps you feel good about what you have when others around you have less, so you should consider starting a gratitude habit with your child. Talk at breakfast about what you’re looking forward to, share at dinner what things happened during the day you’re grateful for, or end the night with saying thank you.
No matter how young your child is, take the time to nurture his service attitude. It’s a passion that will stay with him for a lifetime.