THE BENEFITS OF VOLUNTEERING FOR CHILDREN
Teaching children to give back to the community has countless benefits for their mental and emotional development as well as encouraging them to get involved in the world around them and learn new skills. A great activity that is often overlooked is volunteering. Although volunteering often focuses on helping others, there are many personal benefits that children can gain. As a result, it can pave the way to academic and interpersonal success.
Here we list some of the great benefits of volunteering for children, and most of them apply to adults also!
1. Encourages cooperation
Most volunteer experiences for children will be in settings where they’ll need to work in a team, often with people other than their typical peers. Different volunteering roles can teach young children the importance of listening to directions and how to relate with others. These roles can also teach older children to take responsibility through leadership or to listen to the thoughts of their peers. One very important skill all children learn from volunteering is how to work together as a team. They’ll learn what it’s like to share a common goal with others, and how to work together and compromise in order to achieve that goal.
2. Helps build empathy
To teach children compassion, it’s important to put them in scenarios in which they hear stories from people who come from different backgrounds. Through acts of service for those less fortunate than ourselves, and working alongside people of different ages and backgrounds, your children will build a deeper sense of empathy, as well as broaden their world-view.
3. Sparks interests and passions
Throughout primary and secondary school our children usually learn sports or crafts that are framed as extra-curricular or hobby activities. This can help them understand what sparks their interest and why, which can serve as a window to their sense of identity.
When volunteering, children are exposed to new environments, occupations, activities and skills they don’t usually get to see during their typical school-home routine. This can help them find new hobbies and activities and inspire their future careers.
4. Builds self-esteem
Self-esteem can plummet during secondary school, especially for young girls. It’s not just that pop culture and societal norms tend to send a message of inadequacy to them. It’s also because their brains develop in a way where their maturing emotional intelligence can also lead to overthinking.
It’s critical in this stage to encourage your children to learn about and embrace their specific talents and skills to foster good self-esteem. When your child or teenager volunteers, they can get in touch with and learn new skills that they hadn’t noticed before. This enforces the idea they can make a difference in the world around them and distracts them from their inward-looking thought patterns.
The feeling of having purpose helps foster a sense of independence. They’ll start to feel more capable of personal achievement at home, in school, and in their personal lives as they become motivated to push themselves a little further in all they do.
5. Develops leadership skills
The confidence your child gains while volunteering in combination with the ability to learn planning skills and deal with real-life issues is the perfect recipe for a young leader. Volunteering teaches important leadership skills learn such as:
- Planning – To reach any goal, you need a plan. Your children will learn not only how to plan projects like meals and portions for homeless shelter volunteering, but how to plan to achieve an organisational goal.
- Negotiation – Sharing a common goal with a team is learning the ability to compromise with different kinds of people to achieve that goal.
- Operations Management – Witnessing a project from start to finish can help children learn the best processes for projects.
These leadership skills will serve them in future roles in both their personal and academic worlds. And these experiences can also help them abstain from peer pressure.
6. Meet new friends
In their search for identity, teenagers can often feel lonely or isolated, especially if they have a hard time finding others who share the same interests. Volunteering unites like-minded individuals with similar interests. Meeting these people can help remind your child that there are plenty of people like them in the world who care about the same things they do.
7. Volunteering increases gratitude
Volunteering often opens children’s eyes to experiences that are less fortunate than their own. Even as adults, we sometimes don’t realise what we could be grateful for. However, when we meet people at a shelter who don’t have a home or send packages to military personnel stationed overseas, it helps us learn not to take things for granted.
8. Reduces stress, anxiety and depression
Whether your child is struggling with their mental health or not doesn’t matter. Volunteering has innumerable mental health benefits that have been proven time and time again.
Volunteering has been shown to decrease stress levels, depression, and anxiety and boost overall health and satisfaction with life. When we help other people, it activates the reward centre in our brains and releases serotonin, dopamine and endorphins. That’s why many people often feel better after volunteering. We are innately wired to feel this way because we are social animals and the survival of the species depends on cooperation and caring for each other.
In addition, participating in volunteering can help children take their minds off what’s causing them stress. There’s a feeling of gratitude that comes along with volunteer work that buoys us up and encourages us to do more for those around us. It has just as positive effects on depression. When we are depressed we tend to shy away from social interaction and people, even though they are the very things that make us feel better.
9. Improves self-awareness
By taking part in activities that positively impact the world around us, people become more aware of their habits. As a result, it becomes easier to complete future positive actions. For example, someone who has spent time with the homeless may be more likely to first think about donating old clothes instead of throwing them away. Children who have spent time planting trees and making their community look better may be less likely to litter.
10. Inspires giving
The act of volunteering can show children they can make a difference even when they don’t have money. In fact, in many cases, it is giving our time to others that matters the most. For example, children can volunteer at a retirement home and spend time with the elderly who have no family members or at an animal shelter caring for homeless animals. When they know they have made a difference in someone else’s life, they will be excited not just about receiving but giving as well.
WHERE TO FIND VOLUNTEERING OPPORTUNITIES FOR CHILDREN
Volunteering takes many forms, from helping out an elderly neighbour by doing their grocery shopping to taking part in organised events for a charity. One thing is for sure, there will always be a need to help somewhere in your local community.
Talk with your child and find out if there are specific volunteering that they might be interested in. It could be something completely different which they have never considered, or it could be helping out a cause that is already of interest. Remember that for children, or anyone, if they have never experienced volunteering before they may have reservations or may not be able to think of the type of volunteering they would like to do – because they have never experienced it before.
Role modelling volunteering is the most powerful way you can engage your child in community participation, and it can be a great family activity to do together.
Here are some organisations and ideas to get you started:
The Duke of Edinburgh Awards lists over 21 volunteering ideas for children on their website.
The Volunteer Now organisation has a youth volunteering portal where you can find opportunities relevant to you and your area.
The Prince’s Trust list volunteering ideas and organisations suitable for children on their website.
Volunteer First list specific volunteering opportunities for 13 – 17-year-olds in various regions around the UK.