Childhood: a world centered on personal needs, self-wants, and egocentric aspirations. It begins naturally. After all, children enter this world with little more than a cry to voice their needs and concerns. To be feed, cuddled, changed, and cared for is all their infant minds know. But, as they begin to age an interesting process results; they not only voice their needs, they figure out very early to voice their wants. Thus begins the journey of self satisfaction: I will strive to gain whatever satisfies me. It is no longer a quest for survival, but a race for acquisition. And how well we know, this quest can spiral and catapult into unhealthy attitudes and actions.
The "mine" and "me" takes over around age two alongside Mr. "No". These young babes, barely out of diapers, have so quickly learned to put self first and make their wishes known. Parents don't have to teach it or spend time refining it. Every child begins life with a focus on himself. Unless, this strong human trait is curbed purposely by parental teaching, the resulting child will grow into an egocentric adult who will live life to please himself; satisfying his personal wishes and desires, with little regard for others.
The world is hugged by the faithful arms of volunteers. ~Terri Guillemets
Teaching children to think beyond themselves is no easy mission, as any parent trying to teach their two-year-old to share can attest. It takes concerted effort for children to realize the world does not, after all, revolve around them. Most adults know a few mature people who never did learn this truth. They are not the nicest people to work with or be around. So, if parents want children to become healthy productive citizens, teaching them to think beyond themselves and their circumstances is extremely important. When humans learn to look at others, community happens. It is no longer one lone soldier against the world, but a sea full of people living under consideration of each other. Children will either, by their parent's example; learn to live for themselves or live thinking of others.
Early Exposure is the Key
Perhaps, the best way to teach children to consider others is to give them practical experience. Giving children the tools to volunteer their time and talents to benefit someone else, is perhaps the best way to teach them that life is not all about them. As a result of these simple acts of volunteering, most children and adults find themselves becoming far more thankful and grateful for where life has landed them. In turn an interesting twist occurs. "Teaching children to be thankful helps them resist their natural urge to be self-centered and self-absorbed," says Cheryl C. DoBroka, an associate professor of education at Capital University. "Children can beguided to consider other people and their needs as well as their own," adds DoBroka, who works with Camp Fire USA to develop and present Kids of Character. (http://www.columbusparent.com/content/stories/2009/10/31/cpfeature_thanks.html, accessed Sept. 2011) So, according to Dr. DoBroka, in learning to volunteer, children are taught to think of someone else, which in turn leads to thankfulness which helps them overcome their natural tendency to beself-centered and selfish. Volunteering is a win-win solution for young minds and hearts to mature into young people who learn to give of themselves and care for others.
Winston Churchill said, "We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give." (http://www.quotegarden.com/volunteer-apprec.html, accessed Sept. 2011) Some peoples' lives are summed up by bank account and retirement numbers and in Mr. Churchill's appraisal, they are living. But, he reminds us, it is the ones' who give to others, help the needy, care for neighbors, share their time, talents and resources, and strive to care for the world around them that make a “life.” Dollar signs cannot replace what only hearts can feel.
So how do parents help young children begin the journey of volunteering? Believe it or not, a child as young as 2 or 3 can begin this process; the sooner the better. It is of utmost importance that children learn to volunteer alongside their parents. The volunteer spirit is learned more by experience than words. Watching Mom and Dad give of themselves is the best and most potent teacher to children. Finding a family volunteer spot is a great way for children to start learning. The second step on the journey is teaching children that small acts of kindness count; holding doors, expressing gratitude, sharing toys, drawing a picture for someone, etc. is giving. A third step; provided by Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D, in her article, Helping your Child be Thankful: Fostering an Attitude of Gratitude, suggests giving children a "Reality Check." "We don't necessarily want to traumatize our kids by making them watch videos of babies from third worlds starving to death, but we can challenge their assumptions about the things they take for granted. Simple comments can teach our children that they have much more than many others. For example, when they're taking a warm bath you might discuss with them the fact that some families don't even have clean water in their houses." "Aren't we lucky to have each other in our family?" or "Warm jammies feel so nice on a cold night!" helps foster an awareness for how much they have to be thankful. (http://www.justmommies.com/articles/giving-thanks.shtml, accessed Sept. 2011) It creates the thought in young minds that not everyone is like me: there are people in need. Use natural everyday occurrences to teach children about the world around them and then help them find ways to give of themselves to address those needs.
Plant the Seeds and Watch them Grow
Cultivating a volunteer spirit in children is like planting seeds to be harvested. The whole world benefits when sprouts of service erupt from children, young people, adults and families. There is always someone in need. Quite often the solution to that need is nearby, but individuals must take the intuitive to act and give of themselves. There is rarely a moment volunteered that does not render the volunteer thankful for not only what he could give, but for the satisfaction of what he has. Thankfulness is a character trait that benefits the possessor. Life is viewed from the perspective of what one can give, not what one can accumulate; how can I help, instead of, what can I get? Volunteering is an act that gives far more than it takes.
What a grand return on a life investment!