Teaching Very Young Children to Give Back

Making a difference in the world and helping others are the best inoculations against poor self esteem for children. Having a sense of purpose, knowing that you can influence others and give back, creates a sense of self efficacy that leads to great self esteem. Performing meaningful activities decreases boredom, isolation, self-centeredness as well as materialism.

Don’t Wait, Start Now! When most parents think about teaching their children to give back, they tend to think about teens or even elementary school kids. But as Oprah Winfrey said recently, “You are never too young to make a big difference in somebody’s life.” Teaching very young children to give back can start as soon as they are verbal and can hold a crayon to paper.

By teaching this lesson to children as young as two or three years old, you help them develop the habit of giving and helping others therefore allowing this way of thinking and behaving to become more deeply ingrained. Once begun, this practice can carry on through childhood, through the notoriously narcissistic teen years and on through adulthood thus making a difference not only in the world but also in your home.

Helping Others Scrapbook When my children were two years old, I started a “Helping Others” scrapbook with my daughters Quincy and Mendez. I have gone out of my way to find age appropriate opportunities for them to be charitable with their time, art work, hands, and even money. The scrapbook serves to memorialize these deeds thereby allowing them the opportunity to look back on all the kind things they have done to help others that they can feel good about. Also, this allows them to revisit these generous deeds as their developmental ability to understand what they have done increases.

Great Ways for 2-5 Year Olds to Give Back

These are some of the projects that we have done or will be doing. I invite you try some of these at home.

Make a card for a very ill child. Young children love making artwork and now their art can help make a sick child happy. My favorite website is www.MakeaChildSmile.com which features children with chronic or life-threatening illnesses. The site has profiles of children which include their ages, interests, and information about their family so your family can send cards to siblings and parents as well. Many of the families have websites where you can get updates about how their child is doing. The site also includes tips about writing letters to sick kids, for example, you never want to say “get better soon” to a terminally ill child.

Adopt an endangered animal. Let your child pick the list of 24 photographs of endangered animals on www.Defenders.org. When you send in a donation in his or her name your child can receive a personalized certificate, photo of the animal, activity book, fact sheet, and plush toy of the animal they helped. This is a great opportunity to talk about being kind to animals and taking care of the environment.

Collect food for a food pantry. Most service kitchens don’t let children under the age of five serve food or help out in the kitchen but younger children can help collect goods to donate. You can use a conversation with your children about people who are less fortunate as a segue to look through your kitchen cabinets or take a trip to the market together to find food to donate. If you contact a local food bank like www.LAFoodBank.org you can get a food collection barrel so you can have a food drive of your own.

Sponsor a child. There are many organizations that allow you to sponsor a child. My favorite is www.HalftheSky.org which provides nurturing programs to help prevent attachment disorders for children in orphanages all throughout China. When you and your child donate money you receive a certificate with a child’s photo, name, and date of birth in the mail along with periodic reports about the sponsored child’s progress.

Bring some baked goods to your local firefighters. This is a fun project to do with little ones who always love making things in the kitchen. It is also an opportunity to talk to your kids about people who help keep us safe and giving back to the community. Just make sure you call your local fire station to make sure they are open to visitors.

Plant a tree. According to the organization www.TreesWaterPeople.org, ten trees are cut down for every one that is replanted. Because trees store carbon dioxide and produce oxygen, this endangers the health of people as well as the planet. Their website has a calculator that can help you figure out how many trees you use per year so you can plant accordingly or sponsor seedlings to be planted. But for a great hands-on experience with your kids, get a tree planting kit from Trees for the Future at www.TreeFTF.org or join the Arbor Day Foundation at www.ArborDay.org and get 10 free trees to plant that will grow well where you live.

Rescue a dog or cat. If you don’t have the ability to take in a rescued animal, make a donation to an animal rescue like the Lange Foundation at www.LangeFoundation.com. Your child can pick a cat or a dog to rescue and, for a donation, your child will receive a photo of the dog or cat along with a story about the animal. The money will go to cover shelter, medical expenses and boarding. Hopefully, that donation will help find the animal a home, too.

Finding new service projects that are appropriate for very young children, is fun and challenging. Raising kids who know they can make a difference in the world is a tremendous gift for everyone.

Published on: June 21, 2010
About the Author
Photo of Dr. Jenn Berman

Dr. Jenn Berman is a Marriage, Family and Child Therapist in private practice in Los Angeles. She is the author of SuperBaby: 12 Ways to Give Your Child a Head Start in the First 3 Years

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