A fifth-grader starts a neighborhood book club. A 14-year-old former foster child writes a series of booklets to help others caught in the foster care system. A seven-year-old Canadian sets out to raise money to drill a well in Africa and ends up drilling nearly 400 of them by the time he turns 15.
I devote a chapter in my book to the concept of “service to others.” And there are probably thousands of ways to serve others that require far less time and commitment than the examples above.
Search Institute has identified Service to Others as one of the 40 Developmental Assets. Research shows these are characteristics of healthy, caring, resilient kids. The more assets youth have, the more likely they’ll resist risky behaviors in the future.
Now more than ever, communities and organizations are recognizing the efforts of young people, witnessing the tremendous value of the service itself, as well as the impact in has on the youth doing the service. Research shows the act of volunteering has a profoundly positive influence on youth development, achievement and life choices.
But you don’t need a magic wand to raise charitable children. Here are a few easy ways to encourage the spirit of service:
Model the giving – As with all things, your kids are most likely to learn from what you demonstrate in your daily life. Communicate with your kids about the service or charity that’s important to you. They need to see you do it, or hear you explain it, in order to know it’s important to you.
Include your kids – If you visit someone at a nursing home, donate to Goodwill, help your aging parent in the garden, or bake for your extra-curricular fundraiser, bring your kids along to help. They’ll experience the joy of giving beside you.
Find family opportunities to serve – Communities and organizations often organize service projects that are easy to join and require small commitment. Pick up the park, paint the bleachers, or help coordinate the church charity carnival.
Open doors – If your child is inspired about something, do your best to support him or her, or at the very least stay out of the way. Empowered kids often need little help or guidance, but they always need someone to let go of the reins.
Never underestimate the power of service – The fifth-grader in the opening paragraph is my daughter. BookWorm Wednesday might be the most important thing she’s done for herself or others so far in her 11 years of life.
How do you serve in the community? How could you include your kids?
Thanks for joining in to build assets in your kids! I look forward to seeing you again next month for Positively Speaking.
Kelly Curtis is a Wisconsin school counselor and author of Empowering Youth: How to Encourage Young Leaders to Do Great Things. To read more about Kelly, please visit her Weblog, Pass the Torch or follow her on Twitter.