Growing up in the 1970-80’s, I don’t remember intentional “Pay it forward” days or knocking on doors for community food drives, but I do remember participating with both Brownies and Girl Guides. We did group activities like “clean up your park” or the annual Christmas shopping trip with dependent seniors. We earned new badges for our caring efforts and promising to: “do our best, do our duty…and to help others.”
Looking back, I’m not sure if at the tender age of 8, I totally understood what that promise meant, but I knew I was to be kind, thoughtful and helpful. Standing side by side, in the big Brownie circle, I was serious about this oath and felt the weight of its meaning as I held my right hand and two fingers up high.
Our duty was to be a responsible and compassionate citizen
In small groups (I was a Leprechaun, you?) our leader, “Brown Owl,” often shared what a “good deed” meant, but honestly, it was the doing that made the difference for me. I remember how fulfilled I felt when my small efforts were acknowledged through a smile or thanks. I was empowered. I counted, and could make a difference. For me, that was the turning point to understanding why giving back counts.
Teaching our children to give back isn’t just about a yearly event, such a family charity run, or collecting empty bottles for a fundraiser. Don’t get me wrong, these are awesome initiatives, but I think you will agree there is so much more to it, and it needs to start way earlier.
How early? As early as you can. Your kids are always watching you… no pressure, eh! When you role model caring behaviour early and consistently in your parenting journey, you’re establishing family norms. In your child’s eyes, it becomes normal to say “hello” to your neighbours and check in, it’s normal to shovel the shared side walk space, and it’s comfortable to reach out and offer someone a helping hand. Personal reflection can also help, at mealtime share what each of you are thankful for (some days you may have to dig a little)! This helps everyone identify the “feel good” in their day, and emphasizes the power of positive social interactions. You too can be a bucket filler!
Once your children understand the caring and sharing piece, together you can find a variety of ways to give back to your community such as:
- Donating old toys & clothing
- Watering a friend’s garden
- Helping out at your place of worship
- Feeding pets
- Raking lawns
- Spending time with seniors.
As your family matures, check out Volunteer Halton, for more great opportunities. Over the next few weeks I will be participating with my son in a community-led food drive called “The Gift of Giving Back.” It’s one of the largest charitable food drives in the area, and is organized by his rep hockey club. Last year, 273,000 pounds of food were collected and donated by the kids to the local Salvation Army, Halton Women’s Place and Partnership West. This year we plan to break that record! So if you hear a knock at your front door, you just may find us on the other side working together to instil the message of giving back.
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For parenting information or to speak with a Public Health Nurse (every Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) Simply dial 311 or 905-825-6000.