There was so much joy and celebration and support at our auction this past Friday night! Giving to our community can bring joy not just for adults, but for kids too. Mandi Vance’s post explains the joy children find in giving and how you as a parent can help facilitate it.
A few weeks ago, my toddler and her cousin got to play together for the first time in several months. At first, they seemed to be the best of friends. Then they realized they always wanted to play with the same toys at the same time. By the time our visit was over, they were more like frenemies, doing best playing side by side rather than with each other. At their young age, we expected they wouldn’t be ready for playing together. What we didn’t expect was the empathy they showed for one another. Even amidst the toy snatching and tattle-telling, any time my daughter got an “owie” her cousin would run to her and pat her on the back. If her cousin got an “owie,” my daughter would come over to comfort him in her own way.
Children are naturally empathetic. It was clear with these toddlers, just as it’s evident on the school or local playground. The key is to not let our kids lose this natural empathy as they grow up and experience the world. How? Service. Service fosters those innate feelings of caring.
Service does wonders for our children in so many ways!
Helping out is often done with others, so it teaches teamwork, group problem solving and social skills.
Service teaches a strong work ethic.
Services can help kids appreciate what they have after seeing others who are struggling with less. As kids serve more, it becomes less about them and more about the people being served. Kids begin to notice the needs of those around them more and have a broader view of life.
Kids find joy through serving. I’m not talking about “We just won the soccer match” kind of happiness, but joy from seeing “That family now has food for dinner.” Serving doesn’t have to involve money, however, but is rather just an act of kindness and giving towards others. One of the easiest ways to find joy in service is a simple doorbell ditch of a plate of cookies or paper hearts taped to a front door. The joy of doing something kind for someone else along with the adrenaline of running as quickly and quietly as they possibly can results in some major smiles. Don’t believe me? Test it out with your family. Smiles guaranteed.
How do we make service happen? Sure it’s good to do with your kids, but the idea can seem daunting. A friend and I started a non-profit last year called Little Hands Can for that reason. Little Hands Can connects kids and their families with community service opportunities both at local events in Eugene and Springfield and also on our website, www.littlehandscan.org. Let me share some tips I’ve learned for making service fun and easy with your kids.
Start young. I was at the park recently with some one-year-old kids. They were still in the pick up everything stage and they were finding quite a few pieces of garbage amidst the sand and wood chips of the playground. I had two options. I could take every piece of trash out of their hands and throw it back on the ground and re-direct them to other things or I could encourage them to throw away the trash they were finding (while, of course, watching really carefully to make sure they didn’t pick up anything sharp/dangerous and that nothing went into their mouths). They were great little park picker-uppers. There are lots of opportunities for young kids to help out when you’re willing to make it happen.
Make service a normal part of everyday life. Helping others doesn’t have to take extra time out of your day or cost exorbitant amounts of money. It can be as simple as buying a drink at the grocery store and letting your kid roll down the window and pass it (with a smile) to a person without a home on the side of the road. There are so many little ways to brighten a day:
- Draw a picture for a friend who is sick.
- Find a race and cheer on the runners.
- Rake the leaves in a neighbor’s yard.
I bet your kids can come up with some great ways to help their community. By brainstorming ideas together or carrying out a spontaneous idea when they see a need, you are encouraging their natural empathy.
Need some help thinking of ways to serve? Come to a free Little Hands Can event. We’ll be helping in gardens, cleaning playgrounds, and more in the coming months and we’d love to see how your little hands can serve the world around them. Come serve with us!
Mandi is the Managing Director of Little Hands Can, a Eugene-based non-profit helping kids help others. She’s also a face-wiping, potty-emptying, lullaby-singing, horseyride-giving extraordinaire to her toddler daughter.