All year long, there are plenty of ways to nurture your child's giving heart - just for the joy of it. Look around, see the needs of others and help your family fill them.
Start at home. At a Super Bowl party, instead of chips and dips, ask your guests for canned goods to donate to a local soup kitchen. Before Valentine's Day, make cards and paper hearts to share with residents of a nursing home or children in a hospital pediatric unit. Rake an elderly neighbor's leaves or clear a snowy sidewalk.
From food drives to coat drives, helping others can also be part of a school's curriculum starting in the early grades.
Even preschoolers are intrinsically motivated to be kind. Studies in child development, including recently touted work at Stanford University and at the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California at Berkeley, support the idea that kids don't need to hear praise for their generosity.
Lavishing parental or teacher praise can even backfire, says sociologist Christine Carter of the science center. She is a mother and the author of "Raising Happiness" (Ballantine, 2011). Through her blog at greatergood.berkeley.edu, Carter suggests:
Don't reward helping behavior. Young children who receive material rewards for helping others become less likely to help in the future compared with toddlers who receive only verbal praise or receive no reward at all.
Model kindness yourself, whether as a parent, caregiver or teacher. Kindness can be contagious. When we see someone else perform an act of kindness, we are more likely to feel an impulse to help out, too.
Expose your children to the needs of others. Instead of protecting your kids from suffering, provide them with opportunities to feel compassion for others who are struggling.
A global youth service movement called generationOn includes step-by-step lesson plans for service projects on its website at www. generationon.org . By partnering with teachers, parents, schools, community organizations and businesses, generationOn gives kids the opportunity to see needs in their communities and help meet them.
In addition to coat and food drives, generationOn suggests many ways for children to assist others:
Share your artwork with a local senior center.
Teach a favorite game to younger kids.
Read to little kids at the library.
Find out what toys, such as puppets or dollhouses, would be useful for play or art-therapy programs. Donate what your child has outgrown.