Jill Smoot with YouthLinc, a Utah based volunteer program helping those around the world, explains just how we can teach our children to serve now.
When a child finds themselves growing up in a culture of self indulgence, greed, promiscuity or apathy it’s easy to understand why more and more children tend to be self centered, self absorbed or too materialistic.
I have found that one of the best ways to teach our youth to think outside of themselves is through volunteer work. The younger we start teaching our children that it is just as wonderful to give as it is to receive, the easier it is for them to learn or embrace this concept.
Young children by nature have big hearts and respond very well when given the opportunity to help out. The first step for a child in learning to serve others starts in the home at a very young age. Volunteering together as a family has the most positive impact as a child learns how to clear the dinner table, care for a family pet or help out with yard work with family members. It’s at home where our children learn that the time to perform a service is when it is needed and not when it is convenient.
Create family traditions that are service oriented. Exchange family Christmas gifts that are acts of service rather than bought presents and try adopting a “No returning home from a family vacation without having performed a service along the way!” policy will make for some memorable trips.
Be engaged in extended family service projects. Knowing that grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins are and have been involved in service from generation to generation helps a child understand better who they are, and what is expected of them.
The second step extends beyond a child’s home and into their neighborhoods and or schools. When selecting service projects for younger children, parents should select opportunities that provide love, a sense of security, warmth and comfort. Add a little creative thinking and your child will enjoy a fun-filled event. The possibilities are endless.
Turn a family activity of going for a walk into something more by giving each family member an empty sack. Follow through by having a contest to see who collects the most trash while circling the neighborhood block together. In the end, the child not only enjoyed quality family time together but was given an opportunity to give back to their community through service. Prize or no prize, the child will feel good about their experience.
As a child growing up in my own home, I was taught that it was not enough to be well liked by others, rather the emphasis was on, liking others well. With this understanding we can teach our children that sometimes the simplest act of reaching outward and not inward when extending a helping hand can have a profound effect.
I remember my oldest daughter’s first day of Kindergarten. She was clearly agonizing about something and was not sure if she wanted to go to school. After enquiring what might be troubling her she shared her fears with me saying, “Mommy, it’s my first day of school and nobody will know me. I don’t want to be alone at recess and play by myself. I’m scared.”
By helping my daughter turn her thinking from herself and outwards to others, she quickly realized that she was not the only new student going to school that would feel the same way. I asked her how she would feel if another child she did not know came up to her and invited her to play. She quickly replied with a happy response.
With love and encouragement she accepted my challenge of being the first to extend that invitation to play with another. Her efforts were met with fabulous results. She came home that day feeling good about herself and the happiness she had created in another. She never looked back again. More than one child benefitted that day by a simple but profound act of reaching outward rather than inward.
I am not only amazed at how quickly children can learn these concepts but I have been inspired at times by their examples as I have seen them applied.
Teaching a child to stand up for themselves when bullied can strengthen an individual but teaching a child to stand up to a bully taunting or teasing another empowers a child.
A mother called me up one day after school and began telling me how her daughter had been painfully rejected by another girl while standing in the presence of a large group of 6th graders during recess. She said, “Your Emily was there.” I held my breath waiting for the bomb to drop wondering how my daughter was going to play out in all of this, Yikes!
It was openly and clearly conveyed to her daughter that she was the only one not invited to join in on the fun with the other girls. While standing there holding back the tears and speechless, my daughter quickly took her by the hand and said out loud to the others, “Either we all play together or we don’t play at all.” Running off to play, they were followed by all the other girls but one.
As children grow it doesn’t take them long before they begin to see that diversity and inequality is all around them. It’s can be easier to process some of these concerns when you’ve been taught at a young age to be accepting of and have compassion for others.
Due to my husband’s work, our family has not only done an extensive amount of traveling abroad but has lived overseas in both China and Russia. These experiences have exposed our children to much of the disparity in the world today. Rather than hiding or protecting our older children from these realities we choose to openly discuss these concerns together as a family, and explore both and possible realistic solutions to some of these problems.
The 3rd step then is to encourage our older youth to get involved in meaningful service projects. The opportunities are endless in how a young person can get involved. You have local churches, school clubs, PTA programs and non-profit organizations like YouthLinc – which is one of my favorite youth programs. YouthLinc’s main objective is creating lifetime humanitarians.
I have been involved as a youth mentor in service for many years and I still get excited when I see a young individual become aware for the first time that they have within them the power to change, improve or make a positive difference in the world. A difference that can be life changing for both the giver as well as the recipient!
When a young person is involved in service, they may or may not come to know that their hard work and effort made a difference in the lives of those they were serving, but they will come to know through their outward reach that they did make a difference in their own life.
Another daughter was President of the Rotaract Club of SLC. Her committee held a Ben Folds concert and raised over $50,000 providing clean water wells in Cambodia. She and the others that worked so hard and so long on that fundraiser never set foot in Cambodia. They did not get to follow through to the end seeing final results. They believe they created a change for the better with the 50 drinking wells that were established there, but they know they created change from within themselves.
YouthLINC is a not-for-profit organization operating in Utah
1140 E. Brickyard Rd. Suite 76
Salt Lake City Utah 84106