Contribution is interwoven with competence, confidence, connection, and character as an integral thread in the web of resilience.
When children actively participate in volunteer activities, they develop new competencies by giving and doing. They discover new interests and talents they may not know they have. If a project involves raising money for a good cause, for example, kids learn that they are capable of knocking on doors, talking to adults in a polite and convincing way, counting up their collection, and sending it in. They learn individual skills such as organization and responsibility, as well as the bigger lesson—they have accomplished something meaningful. By contributing to someone else or efforts greater than themselves, children increase their life experiences and thus become more competent—“I can do this!” They gain a solid sense of their own abilities and worth.
When children carry out these efforts, they become more confident about themselves because they have demonstrated their abilities. They can see actual results—a collection of dollars or canned goods, smiles and applause from grateful nursing home residents, 20 stacks of sandwiches made for a homeless shelter, or 10 bags of garbage cleaned up from a polluted creek or park. When young people contribute and make a difference in the world or others’ lives, they usually get positive feedback for their efforts, which further adds to their confidence and resilience. Children who volunteer and contribute to worthy causes not only gain confidence, but they also avoid problems.
Contribution also helps young people forge connections with their neighborhoods, schools, and world. From participating in local community service projects or drives that provide food, medicine, pencils, and paper to schools across the world, children gain a sense of purpose. They can see beyond their near horizons and recognize their place in the human family and on our common planet. The more strongly they feel connected, the more resilient they become. They learn that someone else is always poorer, hungrier, or less cared for than they are. They come to appreciate their blessings and with gratitude, learn to give something back. They will also learn that giving and receiving, sharing during times of plenty, and asking for help during difficult times are normal, healthy things for humans to do. We want our children to know that just as they give, they will receive if misfortune hits. If they are to be resilient in the face of an unforeseen tragedy, this is a vital lesson.
When looking for volunteer opportunities, talk with children about their interests and try to match them with appropriate community resources. Don’t do all this for them, but guide them along. Encourage them to ask at school or a local library where they can find volunteer openings. If children are interested in animals, for example, they might look for local animal or bird sanctuaries. When children become involved in volunteer activities, they will likely work with adults who are good role models. As they work alongside adults who contribute to worthwhile causes, children not only learn specific skills but also connect with adults who are working to make a difference, and that will have a positive influence on your children.
Contribution strengthens character because it develops desirable traits such as responsibility, generosity, and caring. Children learn responsibility when they volunteer for a community project, for example. They know they have to follow through because others are depending on them; they have to show up on time and do their part.
The positive feedback they receive for their efforts and their own sense of accomplishment also enhance character. The more their generosity and caring are acknowledged, the more generous and caring they are likely to become.
Contribution is a 2-way street. When kids raise funds for cancer research or collect toys and books for disadvantaged children, they not only give some- thing, but they also get something. They realize that they have purpose and value, and the world is better because they are in it. We need to remember, too, that we adults need young people to contribute. They are our greatest resource for the future, so we need their contributions.
Author Kenneth R. Ginsburg, MD, MS Ed, FAAP. Last Updated 11/21/2015. Source Building Resilience in Children and Teens, 2nd Edition (Copyright (Copyright © 2011 American Academy of Pediatrics). The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.