How Can I Foster a Sense of Community Service Among My Kids?

Tips for Instilling Compassion in your children

sense of community service

I want to foster more of a community service or giving attitude in my children.  After the earthquake in Japan, I was explaining how the people in Japan need our help.  My husband and I donated money, but two of our kids (8, 10 and 13) did not want to give a dime.  Our 13 year old donated her allowance.  How can I help foster a more empathic attitude?  Asked by Beth – Los Angeles, CA

heidiJones1Continue to lead by example. It is very hard for some kids to part with their money, but seeing you and other siblings do it and talking about how it makes you feel when you do it will help. Another idea is to do a little fund-raising, like a lemonade stand, and have all the proceeds go to local organization. My niece did this and then her dad took her down to the local Children’s Hospital to give them the money. It was such a tangible experience for her that it stuck and motivated her to want to give and do more. If money is hard to part with thinking of ways to donate time and talents would be another route to take. Heidi – 30 something


MarjorieChildren can have a hard time relating to anything outside of their immediate community. Try showing them some (pre-screened) video or images of the devastation that has occurred in our world and have a discussion about how those children barely have clothing or food when a crisis like this happens. Then ask them to reflect back on everything they have personally (clothing, food, a warm and safe home) to give them a better perspective on the situation. Maybe they can donate clothing, books, or other items that you can ship to a city to help out. Another idea would be to have your children conduct some type of sale to generate money for charity. A bake sale, lemonade stand, carwash, etc. are great ways to get the kids involved in something for a great cause. Make sure their signage mentions that it’s for charity–that usually generates a lot of business and extra donations. Marjorie – 30 something


Life CoachWhat a great goal! As a mother of three (8, 13 and 17) I completely understand the issue here. I have 2 suggestions that might be worth trying.  First of all, a person cannot truly give to another unless they feel it is their choice. All of my children have gone through periods of being stingy with their money and time and I believe that this is more about where they are in their development, than it is about who they are essentially. For your child that felt like giving, acknowledge that child. For your children that don’t feel like giving, let them know that it is their choice and that when and if they are ready to give, you will find a way to help them do that. You can also ask them if there are activities or people that they would like to donate to. It may be hard for a child to be empathetic with people so far away – maybe they would be more easily affected by the notion of helping dogs and cats in their town or other children in their neighborhood who might not have enough books or clothes.

Also, setting an example is everything and clearly you are doing that. My husband and I make volunteering “easy” and we do it frequently. 90 minutes cleaning up a community garden and then out for ice cream, putting together a bag of books for the local book drive, making it a family project to put together a Thanksgiving basket for a local family including decorating the basket, etc. All of these activities are easy, fast and gives them an opportunity to “give back.”  Jamee – 40 something


Amy C.I hear ya, and my first thought is that maybe your younger kids are just not able to conceptualize what it’s like in Japan right now. They might be too young to think beyond their immediate world and hand over their prized allowance. You might be noticing a symptom of their age, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that they aren’t giving.

That being said, I think repetition is the best teacher. They may need to see your family give on a regular basis to causes both local and international. Or maybe they have a passion that you can tap into: helping out a local animal shelter usually hooks kids into giving. Your older children could help with soup kitchens at Thanksgiving or canned food drives for the food bank. It doesn’t have to be every week, but if your kids see you and your husband regularly give of yourselves — and listen to you discuss how you both get something out of it as well — I’m sure they will pick up on it sooner than you think. Amy C. – 40 something


margeGiuntoliChildren often have a difficult time seeing outside of their own little world. Similar to the “eat your vegetables–starving children in India” we heard growing up. Who cared? Start with something they can identify with that is close to home and that they, themselves, are personally interested in, perhaps linking to a local church or service group. Have them donate time or something substantial other than money, which is quite impersonal.

(No, not their discarded toys!) They need to see and experience that what they are doing is making a difference. Focus on local as a family endeavor before you expect them to go global in doing so. Marge – 70 something