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I started seeing them all over town. Large collection jars. The labels had obviously been decorated by a young child. Eight year old Mary(named changed to protect privacy) was collecting money for Operation Smile.
Her little brother was born with a cleft palate. Mary discovered that there were children in the world who did not have access to the same surgical care as her brother received, so she decided to help. This determined eight-year-old made collection jars and raised $10,000 to help 97 children receive corrective surgery.
Most children are naturally compassionate and they can do amazing things when they recognize a need.
Helping others has so many wonderful benefits for children.
- It helps develop the qualities of empathy and kindness
- Teaches the importance of community and what it means to be a good citizen
- Is a wonderful antidote to our consumer society that encourages discontent and pushes us to buy more and more stuff
- It feels good to be able to help others
In fact according to a recent study by psychologists at the University of British Columbia, giving to others makes young children happy. In fact it makes them even happier than when they are on the receiving end.
And of course it is a great way for families to come together. Working with your children to help others provides the opportunity to make memories and build connections. There are so many things you can do together. Here are a few suggestions.
For Families With Younger Children (approximately 2- 7 years)
Younger children love to help and are sensitive to the needs of others. It is probably best to keep outreach localized by focusing on needs of the immediate community. Acts of kindness you could do include
- Shop together for canned and other packaged food and take it to a local food pantry.
- Look for gently used clothing, toys, and books around your house and take the items to an organization that helps families. It is wise to call the organization first and see what they need.
- Plant flowers into small pots to give to those who need encouragement.
- Ask an elderly neighbor if they need help walking a dog, doing yard work, or shoveling the snow — any tasks that your children will be able to do easily with you.
For Families With Older Children (approximately 8-12 years)
Older children are ready for greater participation. Their awareness of a larger world is increasing and they are conscious of such things as hunger, war, poverty, pollution, and homelessness.
Often they want to help and do something to make a difference, but sometimes they may wonder if they are old enough, or skilled enough, to do anything really meaningful. Parents can help by listening to their concerns, helping them formulate a plan, and accomplish a goal.
Children are encouraged by success in achievable goals, so keep projects small and fairly simple. Together you could
- Raise $25 to give to an organization that provides micro financing such as Kiva. Families can choose a project, decide how to raise the money, watch as the loan is repaid, and then relend it once again.
- Deliver small baskets of treats to people that work for the community, such as nurses, police, fire-fighters, or teachers.
- Assemble small bags of essential supplies for women’s shelters (contact them first and ask what they need).
- Make collection jars to collect loose change for causes that the children wish to support. Have a rolling party to count and roll the coins.
For Families With Teens (13+)
Teens are ready for projects that require more time and effort. They have the skills and maturity to engage in a number of different causes with you. Together you might
- Write letters in support of those who have been imprisoned for their beliefs. Amnesty International provides information and addresses
- Write letters to government officials to advocate for justice and ecological issues.
- Hold fundraisers for causes that capture their imagination.
- Volunteer at a homeless shelter or food bank.
Whatever you decide to do together try to let your children take the lead. You may have to make a few suggestions to get the ball rolling, but once they have caught the vision listen to their suggestions, then help them figure out what to do and how to do it.
More Acts of Kindness for Families
Now it’s your turn
This is by no means an exhaustive list of suggestions. I would love to hear from you. How has your family reached out to help others? Do you volunteer with your children? What activities would you add to the list?
*Editor’s note: This article was originally posted in August 2013