Because Giving Makes Us Happier

NEVER DOUBT THAT A GROUP OF THOUGHTFUL, COMMITTED CITIZENS CAN CHANGE THE WORLD; INDEED IT’S THE ONLY THING THAT EVER HAS. | MARGARET MEAD

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In light of our post last week on teaching gratitude, we’ve been pondering even more ways that we can empower our children to be responsible, engaging, compassionate and kind-hearted human beings. When we make service projects a normal part of our daily lives we don’t simply teach our children strong core values, we demonstrate these values in action.

Often the actions we choose to take with our families don’t look like “volunteering”. We might help an elderly neighbor shovel their walkway. We might cook dinner for a friend who lost a loved one. We might donate our used clothing to the local homeless shelter. Through our creative efforts and these small acts of kindness, we are making our local communities better places to live. We are showing our children that giving of ourselves is good and science shows us that young children are happier when they give.

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When we come together to help others, children learn that this is a natural, humane response.

Two years ago, Kristi and her husband, Eric, volunteered with Feed JC to help prepare and serve dinner to the less fortunate at St. Lucy’s Emergency Shelter in Downtown, Jersey City. Kristi says, “It was such a humbling experience and we met some really amazing people! We felt that it was more important for us to give back on Christmas Day since there are so many wonderful people in our community who don’t have the opportunity to have dinner with their families and friends. The people we served were incredibly gracious. There’s truly nothing better than making someone’s day and then sharing a warm meal with them. Their bright smiles said it all and that filled my heart with so much love—more than any gift we could have received. We’d like to continue this with our daughter each year once she’s a little older.”

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There are many ways to volunteer based on the needs of our communities and your child’s individual interests. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Collect toiletries or donate baby/household items you no longer use to the York Street Project.
  • Volunteer with Meals on Wheels in your neighborhood.
  • Grow herbs or vegetables and donate the produce to those who don’t have the space to garden, to new parents who don’t have time or to a hunger center.
  • Regularly visit a “grandfriend” at a nursing home, assisted living facility or in the neighborhood. Play games, do a craft together, teach each other a new skill, make up stories, exchange advice and build a real connection.
  • Donate your unused children’s books to your local public library
  • Foster a dog for See Spot Rescued or a cat for Companion Animal Trust.
  • Do errands, cook, or otherwise help out someone dealing with an illness.
  • Gather a group to pick up litter in your neighborhood and then recycle or throw away when you’re done.
  • Greet new people on your street with a small gift such as a houseplant or plate of cookies.
  • Organize a garage sale, stoop sale, bake sale, or lemonade stand and donate the funds raised to your favorite cause.
  • Volunteer to prepare and serve meals at your local emergency shelter such as Saint Lucy’s or Hope House.
  • Donate kibble, litter and blankets for our canine and feline friends at Liberty Humane Society.
  • Join Mommies Heart to Heart or other local volunteer groups who organize service projects in our community.

For more ideas check out kids world citizen.

‘Tis the Season to be Thankful

Teaching Gratitude in the Early Years
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With Thanksgiving approaching at the end of this month, we all have gratitude on our minds. Gratitude is a tough concept for children to grasp, especially infants and toddlers who are self-centered by nature, however, it is one of the most important for them to learn. Understanding gratitude leads to the development of many other life-skills including generosity, maintaining a positive attitude, and recognizing and sharing in the feelings of others. Even toddlers can begin to grasp concepts that lead to gratitude, as they start to understand that they are dependent on others, they are separate human beings from their parents, and caring adults do things that make them happy. Infants and toddlers are still learning to verbally articulate their appreciation, nevertheless, there are ways you can emphasize acts of kindness, care and love. Some ideas are:

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  • Use Language. work gratitude into your daily conversation. Model grace and courtesy by saying “please”, “thank you”, and other appreciative phrases, not only to each other but to the crossing guard, the grocery clerk and other people you encounter throughout your day. Our children are keen observers and watching our every waking move. Have you told your children what you are thankful for today? We can’t ask them to be grateful if we are not. Come home, talk about the happy parts of your day and make a conscious choice not to complain. Incorporate the tried-and-true idea of saying at least one good thing that happened to you throughout the day. Add it to your family routine at breakfast, dinner, the walk home from school or at bedtime. Even children who aren’t particularly verbal can point to things that they are thankful for! Jenn’s family says one thing they are thankful for each day at the dinner table. Jenn says, “It makes such a difference in our family’s attitude after we do that. The whining goes away and everyone is smiling and engaging with each other. It was a tradition in my family growing up with five siblings and I wanted to keep that tradition for my family.”
  • Let Your Kids Help. by allowing young children to be a part of routine household tasks and chores, such as putting away groceries, cooking, gardening, matching socks, or feeding pets, they begin to realize that these things take effort. Pick moments when you have the time and patience to do this as the rewards are great for both you and your child. It allows them to be a participating and contributing member of their family which instills feelings of pride and independence.

    Want to learn more? Here is a wonderful article—11 Tips for Instilling True Gratitude in Your Kids by Andrea Reiser—that has even more ideas for all of us. Enjoy!