Kindness. Empathy. Perspective. Those are traits we all want to nurture in our children, whether on the playground, in the classroom, or at home. One of the best ways to encourage these qualities in your child is to introduce them the the wide variety of volunteer activities that may be available to them in your community.

Child giving Mom flowers
Ah, the rewards of giving!

According to research, children who participate actively in their communities, even for just an hour per week, are less likely participate in the use of drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, or other destructive activities. Volunteering teaches a child a sense of responsibility, not just for themselves and their loved ones, but for their community as a whole. It also stimulates their curiosity about the world around them, which may result in an interest in instigating change in troubled communities, or developing strategies for working with at risk communities as they grow older.

What are some appropriate volunteer activities that you can participate in with your children? Young children can perform simple volunteer activities. Food banks are often easy places for them to become useful, by filling boxes and bags with various, or sorting items according to size or type. Young children can also decorate holiday cards or birthday cards for long-term hospital patients, or soldiers overseas. Contact your local hospital about how your child can contribute to the happiness of their patients, or call the Red Cross to learn more about corresponding with soldiers. Even the boxing up of canned goods or gently used clothing and toys can be an opportunity for your child to learn about needs in their community, and the importance of charity.

Older kids can be even more enterprising in their volunteer efforts. A number of kids together can sell baked goods or seasonal beverages and donate the proceeds to a charity of their choice. Kids who have an affinity for the elderly, or who are good with ill children, may enjoy spending time playing games or reading stories to patients in the hospital. Planting trees with local environmental organizations can be another way to get involved. Talk with your older child about the types of activities he may be interested in, and explore options with him.

And as the season grows older and colder, your children will have plenty of opportunities to help other families in need at Thanksgiving and during the holiday season. Talk with them now about what they may be able to do for their communities, and you may be surprised at how quickly they seize an opportunity to make a difference.