Like most toddlers, my two-year-old is pretty needy. He can’t get dressed, cut up his food or put away his toys on his own. So when he does get a chance to help out—like passing me his cars to put in the bin or grabbing an apple from the fridge—I can see the happiness he gets from it. I want him to grow up to be the kind of person who continues to get joy out of helping others, so I checked in with a few people who spend a lot of time with kids to see how we can foster their natural inclination to help.
Ask your kids if they’re willing to have birthday guests make a monetary donation or bring a contribution for a food bank or animal shelter, rather than a gift. “This shows them how they can have an impact in their own community,” says Dr. Christie Jenkins, an Ohio-based licensed counsellor and faculty member for Walden University's Master's in Clinical Mental Health Counselling program. You can take the next step and personally deliver the donations with your kid, so they can see who is benefitting from their generosity.
Whether it’s a garden club, where kids are planting and harvesting vegetables for the community, Girl or Boy Scouts, student council or another extracurricular activity, participating in acts of service with friends gives kids the idea that volunteering and giving back is the norm.
Lillian Stulich, a middle school teacher in Toms River, New Jersey, says in her experience, “These groups help reinforce positive behavior in kids. This will hopefully lead to helping as sort of a ‘positive’ addiction.”
Many kids naturally love animals, so Kimberly A. Morrow, a high school teacher in California, suggests encouraging that desire to nurture another creature by getting a pet of your own, pet-sitting, or volunteering at an animal shelter. Who knows—it might even lead to a career taking care of animals or studying nature.
My 92-year-old grandmother has had some wise advice in her time. Something that always stuck with me was a line she said about supporting others: “You can always tell the mark of a good person by their excitement for someone else’s success.” In other words, ditch the jealously and practice enthusiasm for others. Your kids will catch on and might even want to help others achieve success.
In our home, we like to use baking to show others we care and as a means to help out if they are feeling down or sick. Helping others through food has really taken hold with my 9-year-old daughter, Lexi.
Her teacher assigned the class to bake a Maine-related snack to share with everyone to wrap up a history unit. One of the girls in the class recently had to go gluten free and Lexi made sure our ingredients worked for this food intolerance.
Ultimately, raising a helper starts at home with the small things. So when my son passes me that apple, I praise him and hope my delight fuels his helping spirit.