While volunteering is a great way to give back, there are also numerous health benefits. Read on to learn how the act can help your child physically, socially, and emotionally.
Most people know and appreciate the value of volunteering. The act—which involves the giving of one’s time, money, or services—helps innumerable people each year. And yet, despite its importance, many Americans do not volunteer. According to a 2017 study, only 25% of Americans volunteer each year, with most doing so during the hoidays. But volunteering needs no special occasion. It doesn’t need to be precipitated by a natural disaster or tragedy, and making volunteering part of your routine won’t only benefit the community you serve, but there are actually a few benefits for you and your kids.
Here’s everything you need to know about the health benefits of volunteering, from how it can improve your social and emotional wellbeing to how it can help your child grow.
Volunteering Can Build Charecter and Strengthen Connections
While it’s important for individuals of every age to build charecter and strengthen connections, it’s especially important to foster these traits in children. These social skills will serve your kids now and as they go through life. They will also help them grow into well-rounded humans.
When children are volunteering, they get to meet a lot of people, i.e. they interact with fellow volunteers and those in the community they are serving—and this is important, says Kelley Kitley, LCSW of Serendipidious Psychotherapy. “Volunteering brings kids with different backgrounds and interests together for a common goal of helping others. Connection happens when people can remove barriers and be their authentic selves,” says adds. Volunteering can also help strengthen current relationships and bonds.
Strengthens Social Skills
Getting to know how to work with different people from different backgrounds is a life skill. “When kids volunteer together, their focus isn’t on their self or each other but something bigger. They work together to complete a task of being of service to others,” Kelley adds. Whether your child has to communicate with the people they are volunteering with or interact with the community, there will be many opportunities to practice listening and communication.
Volunteering Increases Empathy and One’s Overall Wellbeing
While many children are empathetic by nature—caring for each other in a loving, respectful way— volunteering can teach them to be more compassionate and sensitive. It can also improve their happiness and overall wellbeing.
It doesn’t matter if you volunteer by bringing canned goods to a food drive or if you serve a meal at your local community center, volunteering helps your kids see and experience empathy in real time. It teaches them compassion and helps them to appreciate what they have. And while they may not be in need themselves, they can see and hear the different circumstances and struggles the community members they are helping have endured, and this can be humbling. It is a true gut check.
While the notion of improving your child’s wellbeing may seem like something of a catch all (spoiler: it is), it is also true. Through volunteering, many kids and adults find purpose. They find giving back ignites a light in their soul—or something greater than themselves—and this increases their overall wellbeing and sense of self. . “Volunteering allows kids to get outside of themselves and find a sense of purpose,” says Kelley. “It also allows them to practice being a leader, which contributes positively to one’s own sense of self.”
Volunteering Has Mental Health Benefits
Whether your child is struggling with their mental health or not doesn’t matter: Volunteering has innumerable mental health benefits.
Volunteering isn’t a cure-all for mental health challenges, but it inspires gratitude and “feel-good” feelings. Child psychologist and early childhood mental health researcher Helen Egger speaks to how volunteering helps kids mental health. “Participating in volunteering can help kids take their minds off of what’s causing them stress. There’s a feeling of gratitude that comes along with volunteer work that will help you not feel down and encouraged to do more for those around you,” she adds.
Combats Anxiety and Depression
According to HelpGuide, a nonprofit mental health resource, volunteering can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. “Volunteering keeps you in regular contact with others and helps you develop a solid support system, which in turn protects you against depression.”
Volunteering Improves Feelings of Happiness, Fulfillment, and Joy
Although increased happiness and joy may just sound like warm, tingly feelings, kids who have these experiences feel more content with their lives, which also means they’ll take better care of all aspects of their wellbeing.
Improves Feelings of Happiness and Joy
Volunteering can involve giving your time to serve your community or donating materials like clothing, food, or toys—among other items. Regardless of how your child chooses to volunteer, they will definitely get in on a dopamine boost and other happy hormones. “Helping others brings a sense of accomplishment, which can raise one’s self-esteem and feelings of pride,” says Dr. Egger. Research has also shown that volunteering gives us immense pleasure. The more we give, the happier we are.
Volunteering Can Improve Your Physical Health
While the social and emotional benefits of volunteering are fairly well known, the act can have physical benefits, too.
Improves Mortality Rate
Studies have found that those who volunteer have a lower mortality rate than those who do not, HelpGuide explains. “Older volunteers tend to walk more, find it easier to cope with everyday tasks, are less likely to develop high blood pressure, and have better thinking skills. Volunteering can also lessen symptoms of chronic pain and reduce the risk of heart disease.”
Whether your child chooses to volunteer on their own, with their school, or with you and your family, there are many benefits they will experience, in addition to benefiting their community. One of the best ways to encourage your kids to get involved is to lead by example.
Make time to volunteer regularly. It doesn’t have to come in the form of organizing your own drive, but even making small contributions matters. There are so many different ways to get involved, so talk with your kids and figure out something you can do together.
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