Like so many other habits parents want to teach their children, kindness to others and service in their community requires a little forethought. Use these tips to encourage your children to help others in a variety of ways.

1. Make service to others a family affair

You hear it time and again: Parents are the most influential role models and the best teachers for children. Children watch what adults do. Preaching to them to volunteer/feed others/help out at the local food pantry will likely fall on deaf ears if they don't see the moms and dads doing it, too.

2. Talk about it

Emphasize that not everyone has hot meals to eat and lots of clothes to wear. Children don't typically recognize this, and it's up to parents to teach them. Let them know about the project, and how they can offer a helping hand to those in need.

3. Involve children in a regular or semi-regular basis

When participating in community volunteer work, find something that can be done at least a few times each year. This doesn't mean you have to fill backpacks with school supplies at the local community center or serve meals at the local food pantry every week. A consistent volunteer activity will stick in a child's mind if they participate once a month, or even once every few months.

Compassionate Kids, an organization that encourages volunteerism by children, has this advice when considering how often to participate:

"It's important to consider the basic logistics of any volunteer opportunity. If the opportunity is close by, a commitment to help out on a weekly basis may be fine. If it's farther away, you may need to commit to helping on a monthly basis instead."

4. Make sure your child can be actively involved in the service or project

Don't expect to take children — especially young ones — to an activity where they have to sit and watch. They won't want to keep going, and it entirely misses the point of including them in the first place. Compassionate Kids also advises parents to consider both their abilities and their children's abilities when deciding on the kinds of community projects to participate in.

5. Use everyday opportunities to teach kindness

Teach children that some of the best ways to volunteer and help others is to simply do it as opportunities are available. In other words, kindness to others doesn't have to be a structured event or community-planned charity work. The whole family can get involved in:

  • Giving water to and offering help to a family whose car is broken-down on the road.
  • Donating money, clothing, or toys to a family in need of assistance. (Either bring your child shopping with you for these items, or go through your own family's belongings to find items in good condition to give away.)
  • Preparing and taking meals to those who have recently lost loved ones, had babies, or have family members in the hospital.

If showing kindness to others is a part of their upbringing, it's easier for children to make it a consistent habit in adulthood. Make it the norm, not the exception, for you and your family.

Here are more community service ideas for children and resources for parents:

This post was included in The Homesteading Carnival #159.