A friend of mine was sharing a conversation she had with her 14 year old, they were talking about résumés, the importance of volunteering and how that can impact future jobs. It started the wheels turning in my head… is there not enough information available to students in younger grades about volunteering? Are we leaving it up to our school system to educate our children about volunteerism? Are there enough resources available for parents to take the strong role of educating our younger generations on the importance of volunteering?
As a parent of an 8 year old and a 5 year old, I am also struggling with instilling strong values around volunteering. Here are some tips that I thought I would share:
1. Talk to your child about their strengths and interests. Not every volunteer opportunity fits every teenager. Before searching for organizations that use volunteers, talk to your child about what they would like to do and make a list of possible volunteer activities. Do they like animals? Perhaps the local shelter would be a good start. Does he/she enjoy talking to people? Consider a nearby hospital or retirement home. Try to find volunteer opportunities where your child will thrive. But, don’t be afraid to support your child in trying something new. Sometimes taking a risk can help your child develop entirely new interests and skills. Many times with younger children a parent needs to be there to help. I can’t think of a better way to bond as a family.
2. Search for local opportunities. Once you’ve made a list of your child’s strengths and interests, search for opportunities that fit the list. Many communities have structured volunteer programs for adolescents. You can find branches of major nonprofit organizations, such as the Red Cross, on the internet. Also in Southern Alberta you can check out these Volunteer Centre websites!
3. Encourage your child to do a “trial run.” Help your child make arrangements for completing a short volunteer trial run before committing to any specific opportunity. The trial period can be anywhere from an afternoon to a week. If at the end of the trial run your child would prefer to choose another volunteer opportunity, help him/her find something that is a better fit.
4. Help your child stay committed. Once your child commits to a volunteer project, encourage them to stay the course. There are almost always challenges, personality clashes, unexpected needs and alternative activities that look more fun. But, remind your child that they have a responsibility to stick with his/her commitment. Don’t force your child to continue with any program, but make sure you emphasize the importance of meeting obligations.
5. Talk to your child about their volunteer experiences. Once your child completes his/her volunteer project, talk to them about their experiences and really listen. Discuss their triumphs and their struggles. Then, ask your teen where he/she wants to volunteer next.
With school obligations and multimedia distractions, it isn’t always easy for children to volunteer their time. But, with a little guidance, helping others can have tremendous rewards. It can also be a lot of fun.
A special thanks to about.com for their articles and, of course, Sharon for sharing her parenting experiences!
Until next time,
Knowledge Exchange Coordinator (South Region)