By Natalie Silverstein
Families with young children are very busy. Calendars are packed with so many after-school activities, classes and birthday parties, it’s a wonder that kids have time to eat, sleep and finish homework. And while kids are so busy, they (and we) are increasingly disconnected from each other as we are distracted by our screens.
Parents are searching for ways to reconnect, to keep kids grounded and grateful and to fight against the rising tide of negativity in the world. Family service is the answer—a proven way to achieve these goals for your own family while improving the lives of others in your community.
Volunteering together will help you raise compassionate, empathetic kids with the added bonus of creating warm family memories. But how can you find the time, with all the other commitments crowding your schedule?
There are many scientifically proven benefits of volunteering. Kids who volunteer are happier and more connected to their family. They do better in school and are less likely to try risky things like taking drugs, drinking and engaging in sexual activity. But saying “yes” to service means saying “no” to something else. It will require a little bit of planning, some creativity, an open mind and most importantly, a sense of purpose.
Prioritizing service shows your children that helping others is important—just as important as soccer, piano lessons or any of the other commitments that fill the calendar. Below are some tips and tricks to help you find time to volunteer with your kids.
1. Start early to create life-long habits of kindness.
Even very young children can do service projects at home, or join older siblings and parents on special outings, like delivering groceries to the food pantry or cleaning up a local park. If you start while children are young and incorporate service into daily routines, giving back will become a habit, woven into the fabric of your family life.
2. Let the school calendar, holidays and seasons help you create new family traditions around service.
At the end of each month, take a few moments to identify upcoming holidays, days off from school and family milestone celebrations when you might volunteer together. At the change of season, work with kids to sort through gently used, outgrown clothing and outerwear for donation to children in need.
At the end of summer, host a lemonade stand and donate the money you raise to childhood cancer research, or fill backpacks with essential school supplies for kids who might not be able to afford a new backpack. In the fall, identify a soup kitchen where you can donate turkeys or canned goods for Thanksgiving.
As the winter “giving” holidays of Christmas and Hanukkah fill the calendar with festivities, find an opportunity to make wishes come true for children in need through toy drives or “adopt-a-family” programs. The important thing is to find a project that resonates with your family and be sure to include the activity in your calendar every year.
If your child is hosting a playdate with a few friends, add a kindness activity to the afternoon of fun. Kids can bake cookies and create cheerful cards to deliver to your local fire station, emergency department or nursing home.
When planning your child’s birthday party or other milestone event, ask them to select a charity they’d like to support with their celebration and suggest that they ask for donations instead of gifts.
You don’t need much to engage kids in kindness activities. With some crayons and a piece of construction paper, a child can write a letter or draw a picture for a lonely senior citizen, a soldier or a hospitalized child.
Every day presents countless opportunities to practice kindness with kids. As you head to the market, offer to pick up groceries for a homebound neighbor. Bring a hot cup of coffee to the crossing guard on a cold day (or a cold drink during a heat wave). Pick up trash as you walk around your neighborhood. Hold the door and smile at the next person coming through the entrance. Allow your kids to leave a few coins in the tip jar at the coffee shop. Little eyes and ears are always watching and listening to the way you interact with others.
Finding time for family service allows you to live your values while spreading joy in the world. Children feel pride in serving and knowing that they can help, too. There is no magic formula—you just need to keep an open heart, notice when others need help, and role model kindness for your kids. Every day, and in every busy schedule, there’s always time to do good with your family.
Natalie Silverstein is a writer, speaker and consultant on family and youth service. She is the author of Simple Acts: The Busy Family’s Guide to Giving Back, a resource guide to help young families find time for volunteering and acts of kindness in busy lives.
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