“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” –Martin Luther King, Jr.
Developing empathy in young children is a bit like building a muscle—the more we serve others, the more empathetic we become. Creating a service-oriented mindset doesn’t require lots of time or effort. Many projects can be done from home. The winter months naturally lend themselves to more time with family. Why not use this time to create some simple “kitchen table” service projects to set examples of empathy?
Empathy-Building Service Projects for Kids
- Assemble meals. In many communities that lack food kitchens, volunteers can prepare meals for homeless people that are then distributed to people in need. You could also participate in meal prep for senior citizen centers or “Meals on Wheels.” Or you could keep it simple and make and deliver treats to neighbors and friends.
- Care for animals. Make homemade dog treats or create simple birdseed cookies to hang in your yard for overwintering birds. Create homemade pet toys from socks, fabric, and other notions, and deliver them to local animal shelters, or give them as gifts to families with pets.
- Make a craft. There’s something special about a handcrafted blanket or toy. Make no-sew fleece blankets to distribute to hospitals, shelters, and senior centers. Make puppets or other simple toys to give to children experiencing long-term hospital stays.
- Create word art. Simple phrases or poems can uplift and inspire. Send thank-you notes to teachers, military personnel, trash collectors, or postal workers. Paint rocks with cheery messages and leave them on paths and in parks.
- Gather supplies. Many organizations, including women’s shelters, food banks, and organizations that serve refugees are in constant need of supplies and materials. Choose a specific theme and ask friends to donate items that go with that theme. For example, one family gathered toiletries and hygiene supplies which were placed in purses and given to refugees for Mother’s Day. Another family had a “baby shower” for a women’s shelter and gathered diapers, baby clothes, formula, and other necessities.
“In a culture that so often appears to reward materialism and greed, practicing kindness and serving others as a family is a powerful way to pass on the values of empathy, thoughtfulness, and social responsibility,” according to the website, Doing Good Together.
If we want children to become adults who believe kindness matters, we must start setting empathy examples when they are young. Children seem to have an innate goodness and a desire to help others. By making service a family priority, we ensure that this tendency flourishes and becomes a lifelong habit.
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