We all want our little ones to learn to read and write, to know the difference between right and wrong, to be confident and self-assured, but most of all parents want their children to be happy and healthy.
Teaching your child to experience empathy is one of the greatest gifts you can give to your child, and the world around him. Teaching empathy is literally the building blocks to raising a giver, a good person, to creating positive change — to being happy and healthy on the inside.
By definition, empathy is the action of understanding. Being aware of, and sensitive to another’s feelings.
It’s what makes a person want to make a difference, make the world a better place and while you can discuss this topic at great lengths, and read countless stories about it in books, the most powerful way to teach your child empathy is by example. The good news is empathy is easy to foster in children and participating in community service is a great place to start.
There are plenty of ways to volunteer with your child, even very young kids can benefit from lending a helping hand. My son and I have been volunteering since has was two. Below, I’ve collected five types of community service where children can lend a helping hand and learn the power of empathy.
1. A food drive. As simple as gathering a few things from the pantry, or as elaborate as going door to door in the neighborhood, collecting food for those in need is a great way to foster feelings of empathy. It gives you a chance to teach your children about hunger and that there is something we can do about it.
2. Grow food. My son and I volunteer at a community garden that provides food for the hungry. You could also grow a little extra in your own backyard. This activity helps little ones learn to care for the earth and fellow man.
3. A clean-up day. Picking up trash from a park, beach, or trail teaches little ones to be good stewards of the earth. They will meet lots of people who care about the world and those that live in it.
4. Spend time with the elderly. Visit a nursing home or elderly neighbor. Spending time with people in the stage of life will teach your youngster compassion, sometimes the smallest gestures can make a world of difference.
5. A clothes or toy drive. Gathering gently used items, perhaps even from his/her own closet, and distributing them to a children’s ministry or a Ronald McDonald House can be a strong lesson in empathy, understanding there are children out there their very own age who go without will have a lasting impact.
I hope these ideas serve as a jumping off point for your own volunteerism. We all have so much to gain from caring for others.