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Talking About Volunteering

ON THE MENU: Talking About Volunteering

FOR AGES: Five and up

There's no doubt about it -- it feels good to give! A recent landmark psychological study shows that people feel the best about themselves and about life when they're giving to others.

When we encourage kids to volunteer their time and energy, we're helping them develop feelings of self-worth. This is a critical component of their moral development.

The Words: How do you help other people? How does helping them make you feel?

The Reason: When your children recall the times that they've helped others -- aided a family member, participated in a community service project, tutored a younger student -- they access feelings of caring and self-worth.

You also might share your own fond memories of giving. These emotional recollections will set the tone for discussing how to do more for others.

The Words: If you could create your own charitable organization, what would be its mission?

The Reason: What tugs at your kids' hearts the most -- hunger, education, the environment, disease? This question asks them to prioritize their concerns. You could then discuss how your children's charity would carry out its mission. What would its volunteers do? This exchange could lead all of you to search out existing organizations that already address your kids' concerns.

The Words: How could we volunteer to help as a family?

The Reason: A continuing family commitment to volunteering makes the value of giving to others come alive. Even preschoolers can accompany a parent delivering "Meals on Wheels" to the elderly and infirm in their community.

In my town, elementary-school kids work alongside their parents to stock food pantry shelves. And entire families help build community playgrounds, erect low-income housing, and run clothing drives for homeless shelters. Working as a family unit to improve others' lives is an uplifting testament to family spirit and dedication.

Remember to make specific reference to some of your children's past acts of kindness and compassion. Observe that their service to others is a natural outgrowth of who they are -- action-oriented kids with generous hearts. Use this discussion to express your own interest in helping others on a regular basis, even if you're not currently volunteering.

After dinner, look up charitable organizations in the yellow pages. You'll get additional ideas for volunteer service by logging on to two of the bigger national volunteer websites: Volunteer Match and the National Youth Service. Checking out your own area's community projects can provide more concrete volunteering examples for your kids.

Schedule a family meeting in another week to discuss your family's volunteer action plan. Talk about your volunteer opportunity research and your personal/family intentions.

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