Serving with children can be intimidating at first. If you picture afternoon-long fundraisers or bake-sales requiring weeks of preparation, you may wonder how you (and the kids) would survive!
But serving others does not have to be complicated. It does not even have to take a long time. Serving with young children is possible.
One of the most important lessons I have been learning over the past few years – as a mother of two young children who are currently five and two years old – is that small acts of kindness can be integrated into the regular family routine just like any other undertaking.
Reading books before bed time. Family dinners on Wednesday nights. Service project on the weekend. It just becomes a part of life.
As I have experimented with more regularly serving with my children, I have realized that it really can be quite simple and, even more importantly, the kids are learning so much from the experience. We have a family goal to offer one intentional act of kindness every week and when we have this in mind, so many more opportunities for service arise that help us surpass this goal by far.
Here are five character traits I am noticing my children develop as they participate in service to others:
Going out and meeting new people is not always easy, for children or adults. Encouraging our children to become acquainted with new faces at the hospital or on the street allows them to practice courage in becoming friends with anyone they come into contact with. This is a great life skill to have, for countless situations!
Children naturally ask questions. When you share clothes or food with other people, they want to know why. They want to know the stories of the people they are meeting and sharing with, and they begin to put themselves in the shoes of these new friends. This is developing their capacity for empathy.
As children give their affection, their time, and their physical possessions, they are learning that giving is not a chore or something to dread, but a privilege and an honor. They are learning to be generous.
Sometimes we are faced with a choice: others or ourselves. Do we save those leftovers or do we give them away? I do not believe we should neglect ourselves – we need to eat and have a place to live, too – but offering our children opportunities to choose others sometimes will help them develop selflessness. Learning this quality young and within the safe boundaries of the family is of great benefit, so they can experiment and practice this skill which is a necessary part of relationships in times to come. Selflessness takes a delicate balance and I think it is beneficial for all family members to practice this together.
No matter how much you want to, you are not going to be able to change the world into everything you want it to be. You may want to feed all the hungry children, but you just do not have the resources to do that. But you can feed one child and make a difference. What if that child then grows up and feeds other children? What if their story can inspire other friends to feed more children, too? Through serving and striving, I believe our children will learn to have faith that their acts of kindness will make a difference… even if they cannot necessarily see how far the effects will go.
The dual process of developing self while serving others is a beautiful journey to witness, and I believe it is happening to everyone who serves, regardless of age.
Have you noticed yourself or your children growing in character as you serve others? What character traits stood out to you?
Chelsea Lee Smith is the mother of two boys and blogs at MomentsADay.com sharing activities, ideas, and resources for families to connect, build character, and make a difference. She believes in using small moments throughout the day to help children learn how to use their head, heart, and hands to make the world a better place. You can stay connected with her through Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter.