The Sign That Changed My Heart: Fostering Our Innate Inclination Towards Altruism

I saw a sign this morning.

I saw the sign and it opened up my eyes, I saw the sign. Thanks Ace of Base.

Sorry, I just couldn’t resist the opportunity to do that.

But, for real, I did see a sign this morning and the nineteen words printed on it truly reached me. The sign said:

“That’s an hour of time I will never get back. Said no volunteer ever.”

How so very true that is! How so important it is for us, all human beings, to be volunteering. How so imperative it is for us, parents, to be raising our children with altruism, not just in their hearts, but in their minds and in their choices and their behaviors.

I definitely do not do enough volunteering, nor do I involve my children in it enough. But, that is all about to change. For some reason, today, those words, touched me to my core. I think that, sometimes, it just takes something being said, shown or exemplified to you in a certain way, for it to make a strong impact on you — this paper sign, posted on a bulletin board, did that for me.

So often, it is easy for individuals to get bogged down by the “rat-race” of life and to focus solely on oneself. The thing is that “altruism is innate, but it’s not instinctual. Everybody’s wired for it, but a switch has to be flipped” (David Rakoff).

What each of us needs to do is to voluntarily, consciously and actively decide that looking outside of ourselves is critical and actually, almost vital, for a successful existence. And guess what? The Dalai Lama contends that “altruism is the best source of happiness”. So, what reason do we have to not be benevolent and charitable, when we benefit from it and so do other people? There is no reason.

As a parent, it is important that we teach children about one form of organized altruism, which they can engage in, in addition to them exuding daily, day-to-day kindness. What is this organized form of altruism that I am talking about?


Here are some volunteering ideas for adults:

Volunteer at your child’s school. Your donation of time is worth so much more than any monetary donation that you could make. And, although very generous, a monetary donation cannot always be understood by a young a child, where as a donation of your presence, well, they definitely understand that.

— Volunteer to be Boy Scout/Girl Scout Leader or to coach your child’s sports team.

Volunteer your knowledge, and expertise in a specific area, to aid in the development of that skill for interested children. Do you love architecture or engineering or cooking? See if you can offer your time by teaching an elective or “special” at your child’s school or a different local public school.

— Assist in meal prep, clean-up and/or food service at homeless shelter. Not sure about this one? Then, why not go to your local grocery store and pick up some fresh meats and veggies to donate and then deliver them? That is as easy as pie, so while you are at it, pick up some pie too and bring it to the shelter.

Make a friend at the local VA and visit him/her often. Go for walks, a meal, even swap stories.

These are just a few options. There are numerous ways to volunteer and my suggestions have barely scraped the surface. Still, hopefully the options listed at least got you thinking about it.

According to a Reader’s Digest article titled “9 Creative Ways to Volunteer and Really Make a Difference,” if you want to volunteer, but are not even sure where to begin,  you can consider using a volunteer matching service which “gives volunteers the ability to search for opportunities that adhere to their skill level or learning outcomes,”.  The article quotes Basil Sadiq, marketing associate at VolunteerMatch who states that “volunteering is a great way to learn a new skill or put an existing skill into practice, all while giving back to the community.” The idea here is that if you search for opportunities that revolve around something you are passionate about and/or the skills you’d like to share or develop, then you are more likely to continue to volunteer. Two additional volunteering ideas suggested by Reader’s Digest including building what needs to be rebuilt and virtual volunteering.

Looking for some volunteering ideas for your children? I’ve got some for you. Veronica Lee, author of a verywell article titled “Great Volunteer Ideas for Kids,” states that teaching our children how to be charitable “helps shape them into good people, but it also teaches them important lessons such as how to appreciate the things they have (family, a home, food, and shelter, and other basics that those who are less fortunate may lack), and encourages them to have more empathy towards others”. Since I am The Mom Who Lost Her Empathy, I could very well use help teaching my children about such.

Here are some ideas:

Running their own canned food drive.

— Donating some of their toys and clothes to those in need.

— Writing letters to children who are in the hospital.

— Visiting a nursing home and socializing with the elderly.

— Volunteering to aid or play with the animals at a local pet shelter.

— Volunteering at a community art center aiding younger children with crafts.

— Participating in any local “thon” events.

I repeat, again, that this list is by no means, exhaustive, and that my only attempt here is to get the thought-ball rolling for you on ways for you and your child to up your volunteer game.

Listen…based on their article, “Helping Kids Care,” even the American Psychological Association, contends that “children may possess more inborn altruism than previously thought,” but they add this — that “much can be done to nurture it”.

Are you nurturing your child’s innate altruistic nature? How about your own? Definite food for thought on this Saturday…

Dr. Seuss put it best: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”


Categories: Parenting

12 replies »

    • Thanks for the comment, Mary Lou! Yes, kindness without expectation is not always present, but IT SHOULD BE. 🙂

    • I am the same way Amanda. Thanks for relating. I talk to much about what we should be doing, without actual implementation…but that needs to change. Thanks for commenting! 🙂

  1. Love this post! I have been wanting to take my kids (3&1) to the animal shelter to play with animals. I have read it helps them get adopted by being accustomed to human interaction; I hesitate only because of the kids’ ages but I’ll never know unless I give it a go. Thanks for the inspiration

    • Thank you so much for the comment, Nicole! I am so glad you enjoyed it and were inspired by it. My bet is that your both those animals and your children will LOVE it! 🙂

  2. This is a great way to teach your kids to think beyond yourself. Volunteering is a great gift that makes the giver and receiver feel good 🙂

    • My mother-in-law does the same thing for the same reason. You know who loves it just as much as you guys — the children. They are blessed to have you and my mother-in-law to spend that quality and educational time with! Thank you for your comment! 🙂

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