“The reason a compassionate lifestyle leads to greater psychological well-being may be explained by the fact that the act of giving appears to be as pleasurable, if not more so, as the act of receiving.”
Since I was very young, perhaps about 5 years old, I remember my parents helping the poor and needy. My first memories were when we were living in Hong Kong, and they were involved in St Stephen’s Society – an outreach to drug addicts and homeless people. My mum would cook meals for them, and we would go to the halfway houses to visit them. My dad spent time with them, and counselled them.
As I grew older, I began volunteering at children’s camps, overseas mission trips and local youth work. But in the last few years, with the arrival of the children and the resulting lack of time and sleep, I’ve stopped volunteering. And, sadly but not surprisingly, my worldview has become more myopic. I find myself so caught up in the little things, that I’m grumpier and less grateful than before.
Ethan, being all of 2 years old, is showing a mixture of the typical, developmentally accepted norm of being selfish and concerned only about his own needs. Yet, he is also compassionate. When Elijah cries, Ethan gives him a hug. When his cousin Gabriel vomited the other day, Ethan’s bedtime prayer was that “Gabriel, no vomit. Isaac (another cousin), no vomit. Mummy, no vomit. Daddy, no vomit. Everybody, no vomit”
A study by Lara Aknin and colleagues at the University of British Columbia shows that even in children as young as two, giving treats to others increases the givers’ happiness more than receiving treats themselves.
So, like a muscle that needs to be built up and used, I want to provide the opportunities for the boys to nurture their compassionate “instinct”.
Finding volunteer opportunities with young children isn’t as easy as I thought. Many organisations have a minimum age of at least 4 or 6 years old. I also wanted to do something that Ethan shows a bit of interest in already.
I’ve found a few that may fit what I’m looking for.
Ethan likes dogs, and I’m a therapist by training. So this seems like a pretty good place to start. The only problem is… we don’t own a dog! And their website says that they have enough ‘humans-without-dogs’ volunteers, and they need more volunteers with dogs.
2. Meals-on-Wheels or Soup Kitchens
Ethan also really loves food. So he might be excited to provide food to people who have none. TOUCH Community Services, YWCA (which also has a Meals-On-Wheels service for Children), Willing Hearts and ACMI Bread Basket are some options.
There are quite a few organisations that need befrienders. But one stood out. The Tan Tock Seng Hospital Mobile Library brings books, magazines and DVDs to patients to relieve them of boredom, and at the same time, break the ice and make some friendly conversation with them. Ethan likes to read, and TTSH of course has a special place in my heart because I worked there for a number of years.
I’ll start making some phone calls and enquiries tomorrow. Really excited to see how EJ, the boys and I can get involved in serving our community!
What are some ways that you teach your children compassion?
Any tips and advice about volunteering with young ones?