December is a wonderful month to highlight giving and receiving, and I am not just talking about presents here. I am referring to something much more rich and meaningful.
Toddlers and teens alike have brains that are going through major biological transformations and family rituals like volunteering can help nurture their social-emotional intelligence. According to Elizabeth Sautter, M.A., CCC-SLP, licensed speech and language pathologist, author of Make Social And Emotional Learning Stick, and co-founder of the Make It Stick Program, "When we model generosity and caring in front of and with our children, it creates a ripple effect for how they treat others.”
We all have mirror neurons and children are designed to mimic the nervous systems of those around them, especially their caregivers and close attachments. By establishing roots rich in habits that model compassion, understanding, and personal responsibility, you become an empathetic role model for your child. Their brain reflects back what it sees. This means that in watching you, they too create the pathways for these traits, and every time the experience is repeated, these circuits are reinforced.
Emotional Intelligence and Volunteering
Learning emotional intelligence through service to others is important at every age. Through these acts, children learn in a very concrete way that they have the power to influence others. Natural consequences of serving others house two things for children:
1) The awareness of how service affects their own lives
2) The ability to see situations from different perspectives
Both of which are key components to emotional intelligence.
Sautter shares, “Volunteering is not only good for those who receive but also for those who give." In fact, studies have shown that volunteering services are strongly associated with positive outcomes for children such as better mental health, higher academic grades, and better follow-through with commitments. In addition, service experiences offer children another avenue to create meaningful emotional connections.
"Thinking and talking about your family priorities and values is a great place to start,” Sautter says. “The next step is carving out the time to act on those priorities. Make a family plan and get it on the calendar. This gives great inspiration to boost your child’s social development and help them become involved in their family and community systems.”
Sautter shares some avenues for volunteering:
Giving Back: Create a family tradition of thinking about others and visiting a shelter, serving food to those in need, or visiting a nursing home.
Caring Cards: Make and send holiday cards for service members overseas or draw cheerful pictures for senior citizens in retirement homes.Inviting Others: Invite someone you know who doesn’t have a place to go for the holidays over for a meal.
Gifts of Generosity: Pick a non-profit charity organization to donate to over the holidays instead of buying material items. Discuss the impact it can have on others (and yourself) when you think and care about people in your community and beyond.
Small Moments Of Service
In her book, Make Social and Emotional Learning Stick, Sautter shares several tools to help adults and children incorporate giving and receiving rituals in small and simple ways this holiday. Here are a few:
- Make homemade cards to give to family members.
- Acknowledge your child’s small acts of kindness to others throughout the day.
- Help your child gather things to donate from their room.
- Talk to your child about your feelings when you give something and ask your child how it feels when they give and receive a special gift or gesture.
- Bake a treat as a family and give it away to another family.
- Encourage your child to make and wrap a gift for a family member to give over the holidays.
- Donate a bag of animal food to an animal shelter.
- Collect food for a local food bank.
- Send an extra snack to school for your child to give to someone that needs it.
- Role play receiving a gift and saying thank you with words, a note, or a smile.
Giving and receiving rituals can be as big or as small as you and your child desire. The essence of these acts positively impacts the family ecosystem, which reverberates outward to the community at large.
Your child becomes an active witness to the power they hold inside - that they can be the difference. What a beautiful thing to grow up knowing!