As each new day dawns, we find ourselves seeking ways to better ourselves. We all want to eat healthier, quit smoking (if that’s your thing), recycle more, and stress less. If you’re a teenager like me—or a parent reading this article—then maybe your resolutions also include volunteering more and teaching your child to do the same.
Community service is an important value that can be both meaningful and fun, but instilling its importance and making it second nature to kids can take a little work. At 17, I certainly don’t have all the answers, but if your goal is to raise a more giving child, I can tell you some of the things I’ve done and how I got there.
5 Ways to Raise a More Giving Child
1. TEACH that acts of kindness, no matter how big or small, can make a difference.
The first time I learned the importance of giving was when I was five. I went to a birthday party where my friend asked everyone to donate pet food to the SPCA rather than giving her a gift. At that age, I couldn’t understand why she was giving up an opportunity for presents. My parents explained how some animals don’t have homes, food, or love, and I could make a difference by doing this act of kindness—and that all my friends together would make a huge impact with all that food.
2. EXPERIENCE the act of giving with your child.
I later appreciated the impact of my friend’s birthday request when my parents took me to visit the SPCA for the first time, toting that big bag of dog food. I was wide-eyed looking at all the animals waiting to be adopted. More importantly, I now understood the concept of “It is better to give than to receive” through this experience.
3. DISCUSS the value of pocket change.
A few more years went by and I learned that there are many different causes. Thanks to lessons from my grandmother, I learned loose change goes a long way. Gram put pocket change into a special jar whenever something good would happen, like when I donated 10 inches of hair to Locks of Love. The jar was called a tzedakah box, for the Jewish concept of charity. Gram said “Sharing the goodness is important,” and by the time I came along as her 11th grandchild, there was a lot of goodness! She died when I was 10, but her wit and wisdom remain alive within me.
4. EXPAND horizons. You don’t have to leave the city to do this.
When I was 12, my parents and I volunteered with the NEST (Norfolk Emergency Shelter Team) program to feed the homeless. This was a more hands-on experience for me, and the stories shared by those I met that night really affected me. It took weeks for me to fully process the concerns that exist right here in our own community. Teach your kids to understand that the homeless come from all walks of life. They are not just those with mental illness or who lack education. Life circumstances can change overnight and people find themselves where they never thought they would be. This lesson has helped shaped the person I am and has helped to define some of my goals for the future.
5. LISTEN to your children. LEARN what sparks their passion. HELP them act on it.
At 17, I found a passion with an organization called Pay It Forward Kids, started by my friend, Madi Praver, and her brother, Jack. Pay it Forward Kids’ mission is to make the world a better place through acts of kindness. We are working on our next event to help homeless kids by putting together backpacks filled with essential items such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo, wash cloths, chapstick, coloring books and stickers. The backpack program is an easy way for your child to make a positive impact for homeless children all over Hampton Roads. Madi says, “Making a difference locally can begin a chain reaction globally, and it’s all up to you.”
This article originally appeared on the website for Tidewater Family magazine.
Today Brenna Becker is a 20-year-old junior at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia. She is majoring in Marketing with a concentration in Professional Sales. Brenna is a proud member of the Kappa Delta sorority – Epsilon Pi chapter, actively taking part in philanthropy efforts which support Prevent child Abuse America, Girl Scouts of America, and other causes.