Posted: Jul 02, 2013 11:00 AM
 
While parents everywhere worry about raising spoiled kids, they also go to great lengths to shield children from things like poverty and disaster. Teaching your children that life can be hard and empowering them to make change will lead to increased self-confidence and empathy for others.

It's no big secret that little kids love to help. From the moment they are able to mimic their parents, they begin helping. While some of their help might not actually seem as helpful as it is intended, the important thing to remember is that they love to help.

Helping others is the best way to build a strong sense of community and compassion. It builds empathy and teaches children to think about and respect their surroundings, other people in their community and the world as a whole.

Even toddlers can lend a helping hand when it comes to planting a community garden, packing gift baskets for sick children and playing with animals at a local animal shelter.

Family volunteerism is a great way to introduce the concept of community service to even very young children. Even toddlers can lend a helping hand when it comes to planting a community garden, packing gift baskets for sick children and playing with animals at a local animal shelter. When you take the time to volunteer as a family, you teach your children that we all need to take care of one another, and we can have a lot of fun doing it.

The benefits of instilling a strong sense of community service in your child are numerous.

Family bonding

When families work together on community service projects, they spend time bonding. This is a time to turn off the gadgets, talk about the help you're providing and simply spend time together making a positive change in your community.

Increases self-confidence

When children help others, they feel good about themselves. They learn that they can make a difference in the world. Self-confident children perform better in school, have better social skills and are better able to cope with the ups and downs of life.

Builds empathy and compassion

When terrible things happen in the world, we do our best to shield our children from the trauma. As we should. But when the dust settles, it is important to teach our children about helping those affected by something difficult. We can use age-appropriate language to describe the event and talk about how other kids and families might be feeling.

My daughter and her classmates collected nearly 200 sweatshirts to send to families in need.

I did just that with my 5-year-old daughter after Hurricane Sandy devastated parts of the East Coast. Since my children spend a portion of each summer on the Connecticut coast, it was impossible to completely shield them from the storm that affected their grandparents and relatives. After describing the loss of power and displacement of many families, my daughter decided that she wanted to donate all of our sweatshirts that no longer fit to other kids who might need them. We asked her classmates to do the same, and "Sweatshirts for Sandy" was born. In just a few weeks, my daughter and her classmates collected nearly two hundred sweatshirts to send to families in need.

Builds connectionsIsolated gardening tools.

When children are encouraged to reach out and help others, no matter the cause, it expands their worldview. They learn that the world is much larger than their neighborhoods, schools and extended families. Helping others builds connections to others and makes the world both larger and smaller at the same time.

Teaches teamwork

Community service projects teach young children the importance of teamwork.

When we join volunteering efforts, we work with various other people to reach a common goal. Community service projects teach young children the importance of teamwork, that no project can be complete without a large group of people working together.

Children feel the pressure of competition on the playing field, in the classroom and sometimes even at home. When families volunteer, there is no competition. They simply work together.

Teaches gratitude

In a world full of gadgets, toys and endless stuff, parents often wonder how they focus more on gratitude.

It also reminds children to appreciate what they have.

Not only does it feel good to reach out and help others, but it also reminds children to appreciate what they have. My daughter was shocked to find that she had 10 sweatshirts in her closet that no longer fit, while some kids were sleeping in freezing temperatures without even one.

Community service reminds children to be thankful for what they have while sharing some of what they have with others. That's a lesson that can be life changing.

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