Child volunteering

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How to raise kids who understand the importance of giving back

It’s never too early to teach kids about the importance of giving back. Here are four of the easiest ways to help your little ones learn about empathy, generosity and volunteerism.

1Lead by example

“One great way to get kids involved in helping others is to do so yourself,” says Mary Bean, director of employee and volunteer engagement at United Way Greater Toronto. Bring your kids along when you volunteer and talk about what you’re doing—and  why you’re doing it. Bean started volunteering with her kids when they were six years old and says this is a good age to get children excited about helping others as it’s when they start exploring their own independence. She chose activities they could be actively involved in. “I wouldn’t have brought them to a meeting; it was more like setting up for a bake sale, or getting ready for their school fun fair, so they could see the results of our efforts and enjoy them.”

2Build on their interests

Volunteer experiences need to be tied to something that gives you a sense of connection and belonging,” says Bean. It could be volunteering at the Humane Society to give furry creatures a little love on a Saturday morning, or doing spring cleanup at the local playground. These types of activities bring volunteering into a frame of reference kids can understand, she says. You can also sign older kids up for programs that have a volunteer component, like Girl Guides or Cubs. Or add a volunteering to a new activity they’re already excited about. If they ask to join a hockey team, for example, make assisting with the weekly team snack part of the deal.

3Say thanks

One way to keep little ones in the giving spirit is to make sure they feel appreciated for what they offer. Kids aren’t thanked very much, so it’s a powerful thing to let them know they contributed in a meaningful way and helped others, Bean says. Thanking your kids, or asking an event organizer to thank them, helps them feel part of a wider community.

Child planting

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4Encourage empathy

Cultivating compassion and empathy is a great way to build on your child’s desire to want to help, says Sara Marlowe, a clinical social worker who teaches mindfulness to families. She’s also the author of  My New Best Friend (Simon & Schuster, 2016), a children’s book that teaches kids about being friends to themselves. “Research shows that when we’re kinder and more compassionate toward ourselves, we’re kinder and more compassionate with other people,” she says. Help kids be more empathetic by explicitly talking about how others may be feeling. “From very early on, we can encourage children to be aware of others.”