Why We Need to Prioritize Volunteering with Our Kids Today AND Tomorrow
Guest Blog Post by our Friend Amy Carney, Author of Parent on Purpose
When my kids were young, I knew that I wanted to raise them in a family who was known for their kindness, generosity, and ability to love others well.
What I didn’t know was how difficult it would be as a parent to actually live this out.
We want our kids to be kind.
We want our sons and daughters to be compassionate.
We want our offspring to be loving and empathetic toward others.
We can’t just want our children to grow up with these essential values and character traits; we must purposely show up in our home, community and world and consistently show kindness, compassion, love and empathy to others.
But, how do we prioritize serving others in this busy culture we are raising our kids in today?
First, we must mind the gap between what we say we want and the way we are actually living.
In my book Parent on Purpose, I wrote about Harvard’s Making Caring Common Project 2014 report, “The Children We Mean to Raise,” where research indicates that 96% of parents report that moral character in children is “very important, if not essential,” yet 81% of the kids surveyed said that happiness or achievement is their parents’ top priority. The interviewees were also three times more likely to agree that “My parents are prouder if I get good grades in my classes than if I’m a caring community member in class and school.”
I don’t believe that this is what parents genuinely want, yet this truth is our youth’s perspective. Therefore, we must make a shift in how we, as parents, are prioritizing achievement and performance over character and values.
As parents, we say compassion, kindness, and empathy are traits that we want our child to embody, yet many times serving others is the last thing we schedule on our overpacked calendar. Therefore, our sons and daughters learn that we fit in helping others after serving ourselves.
In this me, myself and I culture that we’re raising our children in, it’s vital that we create opportunities to serve others regularly.
Weave volunteering and community service into your family culture so that helping others becomes who you are instead of what you do. If we want to raise kind and caring kids, then we must put as much emphasis on caring for others as we do achieving good grades and winning games.
If we want our children to learn the values of kindness, compassion, and empathy, then we have to take the time to teach them how to be kind, compassionate, and empathetic.
To close the gap between what we say we value and the messages that our kids are internalizing, we must confidently lead our child to opportunities and experiences where they can authentically absorb the values we want them to have.
How can we make serving others a priority, instead of an afterthought, while raising our kids today?
5 Ways to Make Serving Others a Priority in Your Family
- Be the example
Prioritize serving others in your own adult life first. Let your kids watch you care for people regularly. Always model how you can help make someone’s life easier.
If we want our children to be kind and empathetic, then we must embody those values ourselves. As Rabbi Lyle Fishman told us, “Service is caught, rather than taught.” What our children watch us do, is more important than what they hear us say.
- Expect your child to help around your home
Before we worry about taking our kids out to volunteer in the community or serve abroad, we need to make sure we are teaching our sons and daughters how to help out in our homes first.
What needs do you have in your home that your children can help fill? Allow them to help around the house by taking out the trash, doing the dishes, or helping take care of your pet. Family members should be expected to contribute and support one another, however, and whenever they can.
- Communicate about how you are living out your values daily
Go around the dinner table each night and talk about how you showed kindness to another that day. Let your conversations be focused on the values you want your child to embody instead of the grades you want to be on their report card.
Have consistent family conversations about how you purposely show kindness, love or empathy to others.
- Volunteer in your community consistently as a family
Schedule regular family service opportunities so that volunteering is just something that you do in your family. You may have to say no to something you already have scheduled on your calendar, to fit in community service but remember you want serving others to be a priority so something else will have to give!
Talk to others and see where they are serving and volunteering in your community. Join a service group at your place of worship, through your workplace or kids’ school. Check Volunteer Match to find local opportunities.
Print off the For Purpose Kids Kindness Calendar and look for ways to consistently show loving-kindness to your neighbors and your community. Use your a journal as a way for family members to take note of the fun ways you have helped people and showed random acts of kindness throughout your days.
- Volunteer on Vacation
When you travel, look for volunteer opportunities or places you can visit that can teach your children the values that you want them to have.
When our family traveled around the USA in an RV for seven months (LINK), we purposely visited places that supported our values. We visited Boys Town in Nebraska and served at Give Kids the World near Disney World in Orlando.
The next time you plan a trip, figure out where you may be able to serve that community amidst your family vacation.
If we say that we want to raise kind kids, then it’s us who must teach our sons and daughters how to be kind.
If we say we want to be a family who is known for their kindness, generosity, and ability to love others well, then we have to prioritize opportunities to consistently live those values out.
If we say we want serving others to be an authentic part of our family culture, then we have to show up to do that regularly.
No matter how overextended we may feel, it’s essential to take the time and make an effort to prioritize serving others, which will help our children develop the values and character traits that will make our world a better place.
Author of Parent on Purpose