Atlanta Parent spoke with Natalie Silverstein, author of “Simple Acts: The Busy Family’s Guide to Giving Back” and the New York City Volunteer Coordinator of Doing Good Together, about the significance of volunteering as a family.

“Volunteer work is important in raising kind, compassionate and grateful kids, and service really engenders these qualities,” she says. “Live your values and role model these behaviors in kids by engaging them in hands-on service from a very young age to teach them to be a little kinder, a little gentler.”

Make volunteering a part of your family life and prioritize service in your family’s schedule all year long – not just as a special occasion. Here are her tips for serving as a family:

  • There are things you can be doing in your day to day life to be open to kindness and service to others. If you’re going on a playdate to the park, do a park clean up first. Keep construction paper and crayons at the kitchen table to create cards for hospitalized children, the military, nursing home residents and others.
  • Practice empathy. Keep your mind open to what you can do for others. Having this intention of service in the way you raise your kids role models empathy to them.
  • There’s a lot about the overscheduled child. We’re all about enrichment and giving our kids every opportunity. Look at your family’s schedules and look at what you want to prioritize as a family. Take the calendar at the beginning of the month and discuss how you’re going to incorporate service.
  • Start really young, so that it’s just the way your family operates, and it becomes very organic. Service is a part of the way that you’ve talked about things throughout their life.
  • Use appropriate language to talk about issues. Talk with your kids about what can we do to help. Every child understands the need for help and offering our help to other people.
  • There’s a flurry of activity around Thanksgiving and Christmas, but on January 1, people are still in need. Come up with ideas around different holidays to give back, such as donating Halloween costumes, packaging up candy for Operation Gratitude or writing Valentine’s cards for troops overseas.

“We often psych ourselves out about volunteering,” she adds. “ It may not always go right, but your attitude about it is going to shine through – show your children that whatever the difficulty was, it was worth the time and effort, and it was still the right thing to do.”

Here are Silverstein’s suggestions for serving at Thanksgiving and making volunteering a new family tradition:

  • Work in a food pantry or soup kitchen stocking shelves, shopping for groceries, donating gift cards, filling bags and boxes, baking pies or serving and cleaning up a Thanksgiving meal. Find your local food pantry or soup kitchen at: feedingamerica.org, foodpantries.org, ampleharvest.org or mealsonwheelsamerica.org.
  • During the month of November, work with your kids to organize a canned-food drive in your neighborhood, house of worship, community center, school or Scout troop. Also, you can buy sheets of circular labels and ask kids to draw smiley faces, hearts or stars, or help them write encouraging messages like “Smile,” “Have a Great Day” or “Happy Thanksgiving” and stick them on the top of each can.
  • In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, encourage children to create Thanksgiving cards, decorate paper place mats or shopping bags and donate them to your local Meals on Wheels program or soup kitchen to be used or included in Thanksgiving deliveries.
  • At your own Thanksgiving table with family and friends, be sure to include time for reflection about gratitude and kindness. Ask everyone to write down words of gratitude on colorful slips of paper (along with name and date) and add them to a gratitude jar.
  • Ask children to express gratitude through an arts and crafts project which will brighten your table:
    • Trace children’s hands and create handprint turkeys. On each “feather,” kids can write a person or thing for which they are grateful.
    • Paper “gratitude leaves” can be hung from a tree branch.
    • Kids can create personalized placemats for each person at the table, listing the top ten things the child loves and appreciates about that guest.

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