Guest post by Sarah Aadland, blogger for Doing Good Together
As the dust settles on the New Year’s Resolution season, consider moving family volunteering to the top of your family’s list. Emerging research continues to confirm that teaching empathy and compassion to our children not only helps the communities that we serve today. It creates tomorrows advocates for social justice.
Many researchers find that habits of empathy and compassion can even make us all healthier (lowering risks of heart attacks and strokes) and happier.
Thanks to Doing Good Together (DGT) and their simple tips for family volunteering, my own family of five is making intentional acts of kindness as much a habit as brushing teeth or reading one last story before bed.
Here is how we got started. Join us!
Pick a project. Check out Doing Good Together’s list of projects, especially the Kitchen Table Activities that are easily done right in your own home. Though it’s energizing to commit an entire Saturday to package food for Feed My Starving Children, it is extremely rewarding to spend the odd hour after school or lazy Sunday evening doing a small project together as a family. These smaller projects are easier to accomplish more often, even when schedules get crammed with other activities. My family started out making greeting cards or decorating dessert bags for Meals on Wheels or taking up some other small, isolated project every few weeks.
Using Doing Good Together’s reflection ideas, I started having some pretty big conversations with my relatively small children. In the beginning they were only 4 and 2, and our conversations primarily expanded their feelings vocabulary beyond happy and sad. Each project seemed to strengthen their awareness of the well-being of others. Now at 6 and 4, we are deepening our conversations nearly every day. Each new volunteer activity, children’s book, or news headline helps us segue into how we can do more or what might be causing the problem at hand.
My first-grader, seemingly empowered by these conversations, is now prompting us to take on new volunteer projects if I don’t set one up for a week or two!
If it was fun, make it easy to repeat. Did your kids enjoy making greeting cards for sick children or did they seem pumped up after taking a garbage walk? Keep the materials on hand to do these things whenever the mood strikes. Our family created a greeting card corner, so the materials – even labels – are always on hand.
Take time for reflection during family dinner. Our family relies on two simple questions to reinforce an intentional habit of kindness:
- How did you help someone out today?
- How did someone help you today?
Simple though they are, both girls take notice during the day. I frequently hear my four-year-old say, this will be my helping thing, when she goes out of her way to bring a treat to the neighbor or spends extra time cleaning up her baby brother’s toys. Even better, she pays attention when others make her happy. She often follows “thank you” with “you will be my helping friend tonight,” which I then get to translate to the store clerk that just offered her a succor.
Enhance your library. Check out Doing Good Together’s growing list of resources for kid’s and parents. From Todd Parr to Shel Silverstein, the world is littered with books just waiting to be the next one your shelf. Think of evening reading time as your very own children’s book club. Ask a few questions about the meaning behind the story. This timeless ritual is an opportunity for some astonishing (or hilarious) conversations.
Whatever you do, don’t simply volunteer when your kids happen to be along. Do good with your kids. Talk about it. Ask questions. Read some of the excellent children’s books that tackle these big ideas. Bring up the difficult subjects at your child’s level, and answer their questions as honestly as you can.
This is powerful stuff and the impact will create habits of kindness and an increased capacity for empathy that will last long past the 2012 resolution season.