There are so many positive outcomes for children learning the value of volunteerism, it’s almost difficult to know where to start.
Just a few that come to mind:
- Shifting focus from themselves and their own needs to others
- Establishing a life-long habit
- Contributing to the community and society
- Teaching not everyone has access to the same opportunities or resources that they may take for granted
- Performing a task beyond simple chores
Teaching a child the value of volunteerism, helping others and not always being self-focused, will build character and empathy for others.
1. STAGE VOLUNTEERISM AS A REWARD
Don’t make volunteerism sound like a punishment or a burden. Instead, position it as a reward for good behavior or something to which to look forward.
Of course, don’t underestimate your child’s intelligence – they can smell a con game a mile away. So, if you know they are going to push back from helping clean the beach, give them choices.
We can do either this or that. Don’t offer the option not to do anything, but, at least, they will feel somewhat in control.
Depending on your child (you know best), you might lead up to the volunteer activity slowly. Mention how lonely retirees must be at the nearby Retirement Home. Tell a story about running into one and discovering they rarely have visitors.
Wait a day and bring it up again in a different context. Finally, when ready, suggest the idea of going over together to read stories to them.
I am not suggesting lying, by the way. Feel free to actually do some research to make sure you are putting your child into a comfortable environment whether it’s a Retirement Home or a Dog Pound.
This is a very important lesson you are teaching your child and it deserves a little effort.
2. MAKE IT FUN
Fun and age-appropriate. Begin by finding volunteer opportunities that match with your child’s age and interests. For example, if they love animals, find something where they can work with dogs or cats.
There are also horse ranches where rescued horses are used for therapy.
If your child has strong ties to Grandparents, you might consider having them read to retirees in a nearby retirement community. You can always expand into other unrelated areas as they get used to the concept. Start with the familiar.
Consider having them join in the search for where to volunteer next. Allow them to be part of the process.
3. GIVE GREAT FEEDBACK
Don’t forget the basics. Thank them for volunteering, for doing such a great job, and making a difference. Be sure to point out what might have happened if they hadn’t volunteered. “Mr. Smith would have had such a lonely day if you hadn’t showed up to read to him!’ or “Just look at what a mess this park was until you helped clean it up!”
Make it clear that, because of their effort, they made a big difference. This will teach them self-esteem and appreciation.
Don’t lose sight that you are trying to connect how children feel about themselves with their actions.
4. INCORPORATE INTO A FAMILY VACATION
If we agree that volunteerism should be a way of life for all of us, then why not make it a part of your next family vacation? Combine the good feelings created by having fun with the family with helping others.
This is a connection a child will keep for the rest of their lives and, probably, continue with their own family one day.
Volunteering should be considered to be as great a reward as spending the day at Disneyland or on the beach in the Caribbean. In fact, it is particularly appropriate when enjoying an experience that, possibly, others can’t afford or, for other reasons, participate.
The good feelings from making a difference in other people’s live or in the community, in general, will last far longer than the fun spending at an amusement park. The satisfaction of helping others lasts forever.
Make it part of the agenda, just like all the other events, such as a special restaurant or visiting a special tourist site. Pretty soon, it will become part of your family culture and expected.
5. JOIN IN
Children learn from the examples we parents create. Good or bad, they often follow in our footsteps.
Don’t hesitate to jump in and join the fun. Don’t allow yourself to simply observe; participate! It will feel less like a task, and more like a family event.
As parents, we tend to focus only on activities like swimming team, soccer, piano lessons, dance class, karate class and, to an exhausting degree, so much more. Does that sound familiar?
Why isn’t volunteerism included? You may need to sacrifice a lesson here or there, but, in the balance of things, how would you rate learning to help others compared to one of the many activities we usually sign up our children?
Click here for a website that can help you find suitable avenues for volunteering.
Young adults usually find a mentor in life by chance. A favorite teacher, a senior manager at work, or, possibly, a respected relative. For the lucky ones, the right mentor will appear just at the right time to help shape our career or give a nudge in a new and different direction. For me, it was my Psychology Professor at Northwestern, Dr. Camille Wortman.
Coming from a small private High School in New York City, I was shocked by the size of the lecture classes at N.U. in my freshman year. I felt, that morning in Psych 101, like a nameless, insignificant nobody in a group of about 1,500 students. So, at the end of the first 50 minutes of lecture, knowing no better, I approached the stage, looked up at my professor and, pointing to myself, said, “Hi. I’m Mark Feldstein.” and walked out.
Later that afternoon, I walked into Dr. Wortman’s office. The professor stopped in her tracks and said, “You’re Mark Feldstein! Do you want to work for me?” I worked for her for my 4 years of undergraduate school, cleaned her house, sold her car and with whom I flew a kite off Lake Michigan (designed by DaVinci which they no longer make, but was awesome).
It doesn’t matter that I only minored in Psychology. My mentor may not have convinced me to pursue psych. My grades weren’t good enough, anyway, to be truthful. Instead, Dr. Wortman taught me other valuable lessons that I carry with me to this day; a strong work ethic, a morale compass and a sense of empathy among many others. It is unpredictable how a mentor can impact your life, but it you keep your mind open to possibilities, I would venture to say that you will benefit and benefit greatly.
When I walked up to that stage, I wasn’t intending to find a mentor. However, I did open a door by being proactive. I further pursued the opportunity by showing up at Dr. Wortman’s office. No matter how I may want to color it, though, I found my mentor by chance.
FIND A MENTOR
Don’t make that mistake. Don’t leave it to chance because chance is a gamble. Find a mentor purposely and methodically. Find one as soon as possible, preferably while still in High School. If you have an idea of your career path, find a professional in that arena. Tell them of your interest and for any suggestions regarding which classes are most helpful beside the required ones. You might be surprised by how an academic curriculum may differ from the one suggested by a professional who is actually working in the field. Of course, you will still have to take the prescribed courses, regardless, but you may find the suggested classes will give you an advantage in not only your resume, but also your perspective. Ask any architect and you will quickly understand what I mean.
Also, you never know how a vested mentor can help you when you need it; an internship, a letter of recommendation or, even, a job one day. Don’t think that this relationship is all one way, with you receiving and the mentor giving. It doesn’t work that way.
People love to share their knowledge, especially with an interested and, possibly, talented young person. Idolatry doesn’t hurt their egos, either. And, if they do grant you an internship, for example, they will work you to the bone. Have no fear; it’s a mutually beneficial relationship. So, take advantage of it.
Find a mentor. Oh, and by the way, you can have more than one.
You probably didn’t realize that children are born with three innate skills. It’s part of their DNA. Not only do these skill sets come natural, but they adapt as the environment changes.
These are survival skills that function better than what any creature possesses in the animal kingdom. For some, at least one or more skills remain primary as the child reaches adulthood and it drive their career path. For others, they may fade.
Regardless of whether the skills continue to develop, they are transparently recognizable in young children to every parent.
The first skill is the Salesperson. Every child, from the moment they can utter their first words, are salespeople. Their primary goal is to sell those around them on satisfying their wants and needs.
They will use every tool at their disposal from a winning toothless smile to a temper tantrum. They will lie,”I didn’t eat the cookie, Rover did.”. They will beg, “Can I have puppy, please, please, please, please, please…”. They will demand, “But I want it, Mommy.”
All of these tactics lead to the same thing. The child is attempting to sell something either because they want something (i.e. a toy) or don’t want something (i.e. to be punished). They quickly learn which tactics work on which audience.
What may work on Mom, doesn’t work on Dad – change selling approach. What works on Mom and Dad is not the way to approach Grandma. Change tactics.
The best adult salespersons are those who have kept these skills strong throughout the years. They know when to switch from educational sales to relationship sales to a combination of both, for example. They read their customer quickly and adapt. It’s Mom, Dad and Grandma all over again.
They began in life trying to close the deal and continue until retirement.
The second skill is negotiation. This is probably the strongest skill because it is an urge children can’t resist, even when it’s not something they really want or in their own best interests.
The negotiator will always push for “more” or “later”.
Not to be confused with the sales skills, which is utilized when no offer has yet been made by the parent, the negotiation skill is simply to increase what has been offered.
More: “Yes, you may have a candy.” “Can I have 2?”
Later: “It’s time for bed.” “Another half hour, puh-lease!”
More: “Ok, Daddy’s tired.” “Just one more piggy-ride, Daddy!”
Later: “Time to go home for dinner.” “I just want five more minutes at the park.”
It’s an instinct so strong, that a child will negotiate a later bedtime even while their face is nodding dangerously close to the mashed potatoes. They can’t help themselves. Negotiation is as strong an involuntary body function as breathing.
The last major skill is the scientist. Children are natural scientists, curious about their surroundings, testing hypothesis, asking endless questions and studying their role models.
To a child, of course, the whole world is filled with new wonders. They, naturally, want to discover the nature of everything around them. Will paint really stick to white walls? Is fire hot or just look pretty? How does dog food actually taste?
It’s an endless array of discovery, testing and questions.
Despite a whole world to discover, though, children will study with the most attention, by far, their role models. These might include parents, grandparents older siblings, etc..
They will notice every twitch, hear every word and note every inflection.
My daughter, for example, notices when my hand is balled while driving. This is my sign of stress by something that is happening in my life. I didn’t even notice this habit. She did because she is a scientist.
Having a scientist in our home who is studying us during every waking moment can be disconcerting for one simple reason. Despite everything we say, every rule we set and every good intention we have, we are always teaching our children by example.
They are learning from us by watching and studying us. We are setting the example when we stare at our phones during dinner. Or when we eat foods we know are not good for us. Or when we don’t live by the same rules we set for the child, such as how we treat other people.
Even though, at times, we may think that nothing we say to a child makes a difference, you must know that they are watching and learning, good or bad. They may pretend to not hear what we say at times, but they do. They are absorbing every word, nuance and example we set. The time will come when all the life lessons will come back to them to be applied to their lives and to their children.
It’s not easy living with a super-salesperson, a relentless negotiator and an observant scientist but it’s just a part of the job we accepted when we agreed to become a parent.