You’ll be forgiven for thinking I’ve gone somewhat off-piste with this post, but far from it. Raising healthy kids involves looking after their whole wellbeing, and that links to their mental health, self-esteem and overall fulfillment. That’s a lot to take care of! But volunteering can help with all of that. Here’s how…
The health benefits of volunteering
It’s great for mental health
Lots of studies have shown a link between positive mental health and volunteering. It wards off feelings of loneliness and depression because volunteers are more socially connected. Volunteering can help create a community around your children, one that they can turn to when the going gets tough. It also builds their sense of self-worth and self-esteem.
It makes you happy
Research has found that volunteers are generally much happier than their non-volunteering peers. Partly because of the sense of doing good and contributing to something bigger than yourself. It also releases dopamine – the feel good, happy hormone. There is a threshold though, one to two hours weekly is enough to reap the benefits.
Volunteering has physical benefits too
Volunteers might live longer lives. Studies have found that volunteers have lower blood pressure and better heart health. Around 200 hours a year is said to reduce blood pressure. However, there is a catch. You have to be volunteering for someone else’s good – not your own.
Volunteering gets you active
There’s a lot of active volunteering opportunities out there, from working in a community garden to doing activities like GoodGym (NB. GoodGym appears to be adult-only, or at least, 16yrs+). By encouraging your children to volunteer, you’re getting them out and about and moving their bodies.
There’s perks for your brain activity too!
Volunteers were found to have higher brain functioning than people who don’t contribute their time.
Volunteers are less stressed
Spending some time working for the good of others is a great stress-buster. Obviously, you’ll be happier because of the effects of dopamine working on your brain. But it also offers your children a completely different perspective on their lives and challenges.
It increases your child’s understanding
It can also help privileged children understand life for the less privileged. In her book Thrive, Arianna Huffington describes a moment when her young daughter sees another child celebrating a birthday, just a couple of days after her own. In contrast to the daughter’s birthday, this child only gets a cookie as both their gift and birthday cake. Huffington’s daughter proceeds to go home and collect her many birthday presents to give to the other child.
It gives them new skills
Volunteering can broaden your child’s horizons and skillset. They could potentially learn cooking, gardening, DIY and a number of other skills that will come in handy in the future. It can also help them explore potential future careers. An aspiring doctor could help at a local care home, a wannabe vet could go to an animal hospital and so on.
Getting started with volunteering
There’s a lot of physical and mental health perks to volunteering. Plus, it can be an activity that you do as a family. To get started, decide what kind of volunteering you’d like to do and how often. It could be a one-off, or a regular commitment. Then look around for opportunities. Ask local charities if they need any help, go to a food bank, or check around your area. Many parks have clean-up and gardening days that they advertise on park notice boards or their gates.
There are small actions that you can do regularly to build your child’s sense of altruism as well. Many supermarkets have collection points for food banks, so whenever you go shopping let your child pick an item or two for it. When they outgrow their clothes and toys, ask them to take it down to the local charity shop. Then there are seasonal charity activities like Operation Christmas Child, which sends boxes filled with toys to children who otherwise might not get a Christmas present. I remember this with particular joy as a child. I used to spend weeks finding the right toys and gifts for my box.
I’ve been particularly inspired by this quote that I found in Huffington’s book recently: “To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived, this is to have succeeded.”
The act of giving is something that every child should learn. Because it’s good for the world, as well as your family.