By Tricia Goyer
Summer for some kids means long days at the lake, camping under the stars and taking mountain hikes. My family enjoys those activities too. But from the time my kids were able to lend a helping hand, summer also has meant looking beyond themselves through volunteering.
My kids have helped others in various ways: hosting a yard sale to benefit a mission trip or to support our local crisis pregnancy center; cleaning up the grounds of a camp that works with troubled kids. Volunteering has included helping with childcare in a home for battered women (even if the children my kids “watched” were close to their age).
For years I believed we did what we did because God called us to serve others — and that's true. But through the years, I've realized my children have gotten something out of it too. Their self-esteem has grown, not because someone said repeatedly how great they were (and to this mom they are great!), but because they've rolled up their sleeves and made a difference. They've seen how their efforts can help someone else — even if it's for a day.
It‘s important to build our children's self-esteem. No mom wants her child to be a doormat. We don't want our kids to shrink back from trying new things. We do want them to realize what they do matters (which is the foundation for self-esteem!). Here are four ways you can do just that:
- Don't tell me I can make a difference. Prove it to me by helping me volunteer. I had a magnet on my refrigerator with positive affirmations that I could speak to my children. I spoke those words often, and they were great, but real self-esteem isn't built by words alone. Children understand their importance best as they learn to give beyond themselves.
- Don't fill my time with entertainment. Work beside me to help someone else. I've seen bigger smiles from my kids after they've fed the homeless than after a full day at an amusement park. Volunteering boosts energy and gives children a sense of identity: “I'm someone who cares.”
- Don't drag me along with your efforts, let me choose who I want to help. Just as we can train our children to set the table, we can also train them to serve and lead. Ask them who they want to help. Guide them in the planning and decision-making. Encourage them to get others involved.
- Don't push me to the side when other adults show up, connect me with men and women I can admire and model. If you know someone helping with childcare, doing yard work for an organization or collecting food for the homeless, ask him or her if your children can work alongside. As you do this, your children will learn that being a caring leader is not just a “mom and dad” thing, but they can connect themselves with a large community of giving and positive people. As kids see themselves as part of this team, they'll continue to want to fill their summer days in ways that matter. More than that, they'll have a greater understand of how they matter.
Tricia Goyer volunteers with Teen MOPS in Little Rock, Arkansas, and most of the time her kids are volunteering with her. Her daughter, Leslie, organizes the baby store and her son, Nathan, monitors the door and helps at the meetings. Find out more about Tricia at triciagoyer.com.