Source: Search Institute

To many children, the world is small. It is their school, their home, their neighborhood. They think all homes are like their home. They assume all schools are like their schools. And they tend to think the world revolves around them.

When children start to reach out and help others, the world grows and so does their confidence. Independent Sector, an organization that studies nonprofit groups, surveyed teenagers who volunteer to help others. The young people said that through their volunteer experience they:

  • Learned to respect others.
  • Gained satisfaction from helping others.
  • Learned how to be helpful and kind.
  • Learned how to get along and relate with others.
  • Learned new skills.
  • Learned to understand people who are different from them.
  • Learned how to relate to younger children.
  • Developed leadership skills.
  • Became better people.
  • Became more patient.

By giving their time and energy, many said they received more in return. Be serving others, they felt they made a difference in the world.

Talk Together: Questions to discuss with your child:

  • What gets you excited about doing things for others?
  • When is it easiest to serve others? When is it more difficult?
  • How can we make a difference in the world? How can we as a family begin?

Time Together: Three ways to encourage your child to serve others:

  1. Together help a neighbor. Maybe an elderly neighbor would appreciate you moving the lawn or shoveling snow. Maybe a child would like to play.
  2. Set aside two hours one weekend for serving others. Pick up litter in a park, or volunteer at a soup kitchen or shelter.
  3. Brainstorm 10 ways your family can serve others. Choose one idea to do. Pick a date to do the activity. Afterward, talk about your experience.

10 Ways to Serve as a Family
You don’t need to volunteer at a shelter or do a large project to make a difference. Together as a family, do 2 of these 10 simple things for someone:

  1. Play music at a nursing home
  2. Cook a meal for a single parent.
  3. Take a child to a playground.
  4. Provide a ride to an appointment or errand.
  5. Bake cookies or another treat.
  6. Give a “one-hour” coupon that’s good for any project of the recipient’s choice.
  7. Take a dog for a walk.
  8. Visit or call someone who can’t leave home.
  9. Change the oil in a car.
  10. Cat-sit. House-sit. Child-sit. Plant-sit.

Organizations for Kids
Check your phone book or the Internet to see if any of these organizations have chapters near you. Many of these give youth opportunities to serve others:

  • Boys & Girls Clubs of America
  • Boy Scouts of America
  • Camp Fire USA
  • Girls Inc.
  • Girl Scouts of the U.S.A.
  • Greenwing (or Ducks Unlimited)
  • Habitat for Humanity
  • Kids Against Crime
  • Kids Against Pollution
  • Kids Can Free the Children
  • Kids for Saving the Earth
  • National Network of Youth Advisory Boards
  • Students Against Drunk Driving
  • United Way
  • YMCA or YWCA
  • Youth Service America

Also check with local schools, congregations, or community organizations for ways to serve.

More Help for Parents
The Kid’s Guide to Service Projects: Over 500 Ideas for Young People Who Want to Make a Difference by Barbara A. Lewis. From simple projects to large-scale initiatives, this book has over 500 suggestions for young people who want to make a difference. (Published by Free Spirit.)

Final Word:
“There is nothing to make you like other human beings as much as doing things for them.”
– Zora Neale Hurston

Reprinted with permission from Ideas for Parents, Newsletter #12, copyright 1997 by Search Institute, Minneapolis, MN, 1-800-888-7828. All rights reserved.