The habit of service doesn’t just build a better world. Research has proven that community service improves self-esteem and lowers the risk of risky behaviors that start during the teen years and can continue through adulthood. For the family, volunteering as a unit builds long-lasting strong bonds. As children seek out broader service efforts, parents can support the continued learning and habit building. Here are six ways you can get your kids involved in the community.

  1. Encourage starting from the inside out – home, neighbors, neighborhood, town, state, neighboring states, nationally, globally. Starting close to home allows the child that tactile learning of actually feeling and seeing their efforts pay off before their eyes, which helps them comprehend the notion of charity and think about it on a deeper and deeper level as they broaden their efforts.
  1. Have an idea-building session to discuss talents, resources, and skills the child and family have to help an individual, group, cause, or organization. Perhaps the child feels a special empathy for the plight of abandoned animals and wants to donate 1/3 of his allowance or money earned from mowing yards to a national organization, a few after school hours to bathe or walk pets with elderly owners in the neighborhood, or organize a blanket drive for the local animal shelter. Allowing the child to determine who and how they want to help will help ensure the experiences are meaningful and building blocks toward habits.
  1. Help the child get peers involved by hosting a service party. Find a service outlet that’s meaningful to all the kids and ensure there’s a task for all age groups. The ideas are limitless – clean up the local park, paint an elderly neighbor’s fence, prepare bag lunches for the local homeless shelter, organize a run or bike ride charity event for a struggling community member, and so forth. The key is for the event to be hands-on so the kids can see how each of their direct efforts can make a difference as a whole. My children and I have participated in group service projects through scouting and my alumni society.  
  1. Organize a roundtable discussion after projects. Discuss what’s been learned, feelings and emotional impacts, and where future efforts should go. While charitable contribution should be taught as a reward in of itself, don’t forget to encourage participants by praising them for all their hard work. It’s okay to celebrate and have fun at the end of projects, but don’t do so in a way that associates it with extravagant reward systems.
  1. Remember that charity isn’t always about money. Children can be giving with their time and attention, too. Volunteer at a long-term or assisted living facility in the activity department. Elderly individuals often just crave a bingo partner or someone to have a meaningful conversation.
  1. Remember that charity isn’t always leaps. Sometimes it’s just small steps toward betterment. Saving an endangered species can start by simply placing bird feeders around the yard. We are trying to help in this way by planting native plants in our yard. Avoiding unnecessary water use, turning off lights around the house, playing outside verses in front of a TV, never littering, and such are all steps that can be taken to serve the earth.