Finding Your Purpose

When I volunteer, I step outside of my world and away from my worries. I focus on who is before me and how I can help. I gain perspective of the world around me and of my existence. I feel grateful for the privileges I have. But I don’t sign up to volunteer because it makes me feel good. There is a need, and I can fill the need. I help because that is what it means to me to be a good citizen of the world. I also want to instill these values and a sense of purpose in my children. I turned to experts for advice on how to do that.

What’s Your Why?

The Extension at the University of Nevada, Reno, reported that youth who volunteer are less likely to engage in destructive behaviors and more likely to do well in school and graduate. When I talked with a teen who volunteers often, she shared that it feels good to do something without a requirement or benefits, “I like my job, but I got it to earn money. With volunteering, I don’t get money, but I am personally motivated to do it. I feel part of the community. It gives me something to do that is different.” Dr. Traci Baxley recently spoke on the Ask Lisa: The Psychology of Parenting podcast about raising compassionate children and shared these impactful comments: “The more opportunities they [children] have to serve other people, the less that they are more entrenched about what’s going on with them. They get to…see their privileges for what they are, whether it’s race, whether it’s socioeconomic, whether it’s age, religion; whatever those privileges are. They get to see how they can use those privileges in a way that are tools for change, tools for action. The more opportunities they have to see the perspective of other people and do for other people, the more it builds their capacity to be less self-serving and more about how they can help other people.”

How Do We Encourage Our Children to Find Purpose?

We know that our children are always watching us. We can inspire our children by modeling what we want to see. Finding purpose in our work, volunteering, hobbies, or connections with our communities and talking with our families about these aspects of our lives can effectively instill these values. We can look for opportunities for our families to participate together to help our community. When we notice our children in purposeful action, we can celebrate them. Angela Duckworth suggests  on CharacterLab, “Point out connections between activities and long-term goals: “It makes sense that you’ve joined the Girls Who Code club at school, since you’ve always been interested in computers and can now help teach younger kids.”

Finding Opportunities

Your child’s school may be a great place to start for age-appropriate service projects. Many schools have a community service club (Rotary/Interact) or sanctioned programs kids can sign up for. Some cities partner with the Youth Volunteer Corps for help around town. Religious groups often have many connections with local needs. Scouts and similar organizations often have a community service component. Families can look for ways to help together. Pitch in to surprise an elderly neighbor with leaf raking, share a pot of soup with friends who have a new baby, and drop off baked goods when friends are navigating a struggle. Kids can paint rocks to leave around town or sidewalk chalk some temporary cheerful art. Perhaps making a goal of a service project a month for your family will inspire you all to think of creative ways to help others.


Assembly Malala Fund Newsletter

Be a Changemaker by Thompson

Kid’s Guide to Service Projects by Lewis

Social Justice Parenting by Baxley

Volunteer Match

Youth Volunteer Corps

By Megan McQueen. Spanish translation by IRCO’s International Language Bank.

Megan McQueen is a warmhearted teacher, coach, consultant, and writer. She grounds her work in empathetic education, imparting a strong sense of community and social skills to those with which she works. Megan prioritizes emotional learning and problem solving skills. When not at work, she is most likely playing with her husband, two children, and pup.

Learn more about the Oregon Parenting Education Collaborative and read our blog!

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