Teaching Your Children Values Through Volunteerism

by Erik A. Fisher, Ph.D., aka Dr. E…
Dr. Erik FisherIn today's society, so many of us feel that children are growing up with unhealthy values and unproductive attitudes. Children and teens are sometimes viewed as self-centered, seldom thinking about others in their family or community. While there are many factors that contribute to their behaviors and beliefs, there may be ways to guide and affect their belief systems and develop a closer relationship in the process.
Often children develop a self-centered view toward the world either through observation and/or lack of exposure to helping to others. As parents and caretakers of children, have we ever really looked at ourselves of being a source of unproductive, self-centered modeling. In the formative years of our children's lives, we are the most important model to them, and whether we realize it or not they see and hear almost everything we do.

Work, Work, Work
In many families today, it is common for both parents to work, so the time that one or both parents have to spend with children is compromised. And as we feel that we have to scramble to make ends meet we may feel that time to do anything else is compromised that much more.

Between the responsibilities at work and home, many parents feel that time for themselves is almost non-existent. We may not want to look so closely at ourselves, but have we asked ourselves how our children see us spending our time when we are at home? They may see us at home resting, watching television, cleaning, cooking, helping them with homework, shopping, playing sports…We may believe that we sacrifice and volunteer much of our time for our children by driving them to games, friends houses, movies; working our fingers to the bone to make sure that they have food, clothes, and a roof over their head… But we still need to recognize that all of these efforts also serve our own purpose at some level, and frankly our children often expect this of us. Our children do not realize that we are volunteering our time to them many times.

When was the last time that we volunteered our time to people in need? Even more, when was the last time we, as a family, volunteered our time to people in need? For many of us the answer to the first question may be "a long time", and the answer to the second question may be "never." On the other hand, sometimes we feel that we ARE the people in need, and in some ways we may be; however, if all that we expect is to be given to when we are in need, what are our children learning. They say that if you give a man a fish he will eat for a day, but if you teach him how to fish, he will eat for a lifetime. Giving back to others is teaching the man to fish. It creates a cycle of giving and receiving, and frankly, what got us into the mess we are in now was more taking than giving and excessive entitlement that seemed to be taught from the top down.

United We Stand
The family unit has the ability to be a very strong cohesive team, but the members of the family have to learn to work as a team first. Volunteering, as a family, can teach many positive lessons. When we contribute our time and effort, it helps us to feel better about ourselves, teaches a stronger work ethic, contributes to learning about the world around us, results in us meeting different people and forming different relationships, and provides confidence-building experiences in a variety of different job tasks.

If, as a parent, you feel that you work hard enough at what you do, then you have to be very careful of the message you are sending your child. If you spent only three hours on a Saturday morning once a month with your kids cleaning up a shelter or planting flowers, or commit part of your day around Thanksgiving or Christmas to feed people at a shelter or church, it still sends a positive message that your children will value the rest of their lives.

Sometimes we allow ourselves to find different barriers, obstacles, or excuses that prevent us from feeling the richness of giving our time freely to others. It doesn't matter how much or how little money your family makes, the time of day that you can volunteer, where you live, if you can walk or talk… there are always ways to find time to volunteer. If you find yourself finding reasons to not volunteer your time, then pay attention to the messages your children might be receiving.

Parents are often looking for ways to spend quality time with their children. Giving our time freely to others, as a family can be one of the richest forms of quality time. Even more, volunteering is free. If you are looking for ways to volunteer your time, contact some of these sources: Habitat for Humanity, Animal Shelters, Churches, Homeless and Battered Women's Shelters, United Way, After School programs, Public Broadcasting stations, Meals on Wheels, Nursing Homes, Hospitals… In terms of thinking of what to do to volunteer, talk to your children and ask them what they would like to do. They may have great ideas on unique ways to volunteer time. When you listen to your children and include them on decisions, they feel more valued. Always remember that our children are a gift to us and the time we spend with them is priceless.
Erik Fisher book About the author:
Erik Fisher, PhD, aka Dr. E…, is a licensed psychologist and author of two books whose work has been featured on CNN, NBC, CBS, FOX and CNN. Visit him at www.ErikFisher.com.