Creating Opportunities for Children & Teens to Contribute

Creating Opportunities for Children & Teens to Contribute

Confident young people who recognize their competencies, who feel connected to people, and who have a strongly rooted character are poised to contribute to the world.

Children and teens who take active steps to contribute will receive ongoing feedback and gain experiences that prepare them to thrive. Parents and communities who ensure ample opportunities for children to contribute will build the next generation of leaders.

How Contribution Fosters Resilience

Contemporary culture is so focused on material things like electronic equipment, expensive shoes and clothes, cosmetics, and cars. Children naturally get swept up in this tide because they see it all around them.

What Parents Can Do to Encourage Giving

To counter this influence or put it in perspective, parents can support opportunities for children to give rather than receive. Children will learn that the universe doesn’t revolve around them or owe them everything they desire. When they raise money for earthquake relief, collect recyclables, or tutor younger children, they gain a more realistic perspective of the world and their places in it. They begin to see beyond their isolated, self-oriented circles. They recognize themselves as part of larger communities in which they can make a difference.

How Children Can Contribute to Society

Children can contribute to society in a multitude of ways:

  • Collecting coins to feed the hungry
  • Cleaning up the environment
  • Volunteering with children who have physical disabilities
  • Spontaneous acts of generosity and courtesy such as holding open heavy doors for a parent pushing a baby stroller or someone carrying heavy bags

Contribution directly fosters resilience because it helps children gain a sense of purpose, something positive to strive toward and achieve.


Kenneth R. Ginsburg, MD, MS Ed, FAAP
Last Updated

Contribution: Building Competence, Confidence, Connection & Character

Contribution: Building Competence, Confidence, Connection & Character

Contribution is interwoven with competence, confidence, connection, and character as an integral thread in the web of resilience.


When children actively participate in volunteer activities, they develop new competencies by giving and doing. They discover new interests and talents they may not know they have. If a project involves raising money for a good cause, for example, kids learn that they are capable of knocking on doors, talking to adults in a polite and convincing way, counting up their collection, and sending it in. They learn individual skills such as organization and responsibility, as well as the bigger lesson—they have accomplished something meaningful.

By contributing to someone else or efforts greater than themselves, children increase their life experiences and thus become more competent—“I can do this!” They gain a solid sense of their own abilities and worth.


When children carry out these efforts, they become more confident about themselves because they have demonstrated their abilities. They can see actual results—a collection of dollars or canned goods, smiles and applause from grateful nursing home residents, 20 stacks of sandwiches made for a homeless shelter, or 10 bags of garbage cleaned up from a polluted creek or park. When young people contribute and make a difference in the world or others’ lives, they usually get positive feedback for their efforts, which further adds to their confidence and resilience.

Children who volunteer and contribute to worthy causes not only gain confidence, but they also avoid problems.


Contribution also helps young people forge connections with their neighborhoods, schools, and world. From participating in local community service projects or drives that provide food, medicine, pencils, and paper to schools across the world, children gain a sense of purpose. They can see beyond their near horizons and recognize their place in the human family and on our common planet. The more strongly they feel connected, the more resilient they become. They learn that someone else is always poorer, hungrier, or less cared for than they are. They come to appreciate their blessings and with gratitude, learn to give something back. They will also learn that giving and receiving, sharing during times of plenty, and asking for help during difficult times are normal, healthy things for humans to do. We want our children to know that just as they give, they will receive if misfortune hits. If they are to be resilient in the face of an unforeseen tragedy, this is a vital lesson.

Volunteer Opportunities

When looking for volunteer opportunities, talk with children about their interests and try to match them with appropriate community resources. Don’t do all this for them, but guide them along. Encourage them to ask at school or a local library where they can find volunteer openings. If children are interested in animals, for example, they might look for local animal or bird sanctuaries.

When children become involved in volunteer activities, they will likely work with adults who are good role models. As they work alongside adults who contribute to worthwhile causes, children not only learn specific skills but also connect with adults who are working to make a difference, and that will have a positive influence on your children.


Contribution strengthens character because it develops desirable traits such as responsibility, generosity, and caring. Children learn responsibility when they volunteer for a community project, for example. They know they have to follow through because others are depending on them; they have to show up on time and do their part.

The positive feedback they receive for their efforts and their own sense of accomplishment also enhance character. The more their generosity and caring are acknowledged, the more generous and caring they are likely to become.

Contribution is a 2-way street. When kids raise funds for cancer research or collect toys and books for disadvantaged children, they not only give some- thing, but they also get something. They realize that they have purpose and value, and the world is better because they are in it. We need to remember, too, that we adults need young people to contribute. They are our greatest resource for the future, so we need their contributions.


Kenneth R. Ginsburg, MD, MS Ed, FAAP
Last Updated

Community-Based Resilience-Building

Community-Based Resilience-Building

Whether the community encompasses civic groups, religious organizations, schools, sports leagues, or any and all groups that serve youth, it can promote healthy development by creating conditions in which families can thrive and by offering community-based resources including youth development and enrichment programs.

If you represent a school, community, or program that’s thinking about using a positive youth development or resilience-based strategy to transform the way young people are approached, consider organizations that will work closely with you to evaluate needs, suggest infrastructure changes, and frame interventions. Here are 4 well-respected groups that can rise to meet your needs:

  • The Search Institute
  • Communities That Care
  • Kids at Hope
  • The Penn Resiliency Project

What Parents Can Do Within Their Community or as a Community Leader

  • Notice the acts of generosity and compassion shown by youth and spread these good news stories. Don’t notice only the heroic acts, but also the everyday acts; recognize kindness and contribution as the norm.
  • Advocate for the positive portrayal of youth in the community. Ask for a shift away from media coverage where only the highest achievers and delinquents get airtime.
  • Advocate for public health messages that don’t just tell kids what not to do but fervently tell kids what to do, and recognize that most youth are already doing the right thing.
  • Advocate for enrichment programs in communities and schools, especially in those areas most at risk that currently only have prevention programs. This doesn’t mean you should suggest that risk-based programs be cut.
  • Give youth opportunities to contribute to their communities. When they’re out serving others, their value will be noticed and they’ll receive those vital reinforcing displays of gratitude.
  • Work with the parents in your community so that young people have appropriate role models, rules, and boundaries that ensure safety. If these are seen as normal in your community, adolescents will have less reason to rebel.

Including Youth Wisdom

Young people who contribute to the well-being of their community and are noticed for their efforts will be more likely to stay engaged. We must never forget that youth are the experts on themselves. We increase the quality of the program and the benefits to the participants when we ask youth for advice in designing a program. Young people who help programs design services may become leaders in those same or future programs.

If you want to guide the youth of a community toward positive behaviors, consider creating peer educators and positive role models. Messages hold a certain resonance when transmitted from someone to whom peers can relate. At the same time, peer educators have more credibility when they’re linked with respected adult experts. Understand also who the peer opinion leaders are (not necessarily the best students or class officers) and influence them to model appropriate behaviors.


12 Tips for Teaching Children Gratitude

12 Tips for Teaching Children Gratitude

By: Kathleen Berchelmann M.D., FAAP

Tired of bickering, jealousy, and selfishness? Kids are naturally materialistic and self-serving– but the good news is that gratitude can be taught. And from gratitude flows joy.

Tricks for Teaching Children Gratitude and Creating a More Joyful Home:

  1. Surprise them! Avoid too many choices: Surprises help children see something as a gift, not an entitlement. Having too many choices breeds unhappiness– you are always wondering if you could have something better. One night, we tried to have a conversation with our children about where we might go for our summer vacation. Within five minutes, Disney World was not good enough. Everyone had a better idea, and no one was going to be happy with whatever we came up with. I put a prompt end to that conversation, and about a week later, I announced that I had a big surprise– we were going to Mt. Rushmore! I showed off my plans for our national park camping vacation, and they couldn’t have been more excited. Our low-budget road trip turned out to be a fabulous success.
  2. Talk about the best parts of your day: Find some time each day to talk about what you are thankful for– perhaps at the dinner table, before bed, or while you are driving in the car. Ask your children, “What was the best part of your day?”
    • For older children, try keeping a gratitude journal. Gratitude journals have been shown to be an effective approach to helping children be happier: One study had 221 sixth- and seventh-graders write down five things they were grateful for every day for two weeks. Three weeks later, these students had a better outlook on school and greater life satisfaction compared with kids assigned to list five hassles.
  3. Teach your children their past: What are your family stories of hardship and perseverance? My husband’s great-grandmother ironed for a living– her iron is now a bookend in our house, reminding our children what hard work really means. As a child, my grandmother washed dishes for ten cents per week during the depression. We keep her picture in our study, and tell our children her story. Not sure of your past? Just take a family trip to the history museum, a battlefield, or other historic site. You will return home grateful.
  4. Help your children serve someone who does not “need” charity: It’s great for kids to participate in scout food collections and other community charity programs, but these events only occur a few times per year and you rarely meet the people you are serving. Find someone in your everyday life for your children to serve regularly, even if this person doesn’t really need charity. We have a neighbor who lives alone and appreciates our left-overs so she doesn’t have to cook for one person. Our kids love to bring her food. One night they were all griping about how they didn’t like the dinner I made, until I asked them to bring a plate to our neighbor. Suddenly all the complaining stopped and they were out the door with her food, eager to have the opportunity to serve her.
  5. Focus on the positive, all day: I tell my children several times each day, “Attitude is a choice.” Choosing to have a positive attitude is actually our #1 house rule. It’s an all-day effort to constantly turn around the whining, jealousy, and complaining and instead focus on positive. “I’m thirsty!” needs to become, “Mommy, may I please have a drink?” “Where are my shoes?!” has to change to “Daddy, can you please help me find my shoes?”
  6. Say “Thank you:” Teach young children to say “thank you” as part of a full sentence, for example, “Thank you, Daddy, for making dinner.” Encourage school-aged kids to say thank you throughout the day, especially when you help them get ready for school or drive them to activities. Have them thank coaches for practice and music teachers for lessons.
    • Struggling to get your children to say “thank you” without reminders? For ten years I reminded my children to say “thank you” when they were served at a restaurant, but I just couldn’t get them to do it without prompting. Now, if they forget to say “thank-you” they have to seek out their server and personally thank them before leaving. No more reminders necessary…
  7. Lead by example: How many times per day do you say “thank you”? Have you told your children what you are thankful for today? Our children are watching our every waking move. We can’t ask them to be grateful if we are not. Come home and talk about the happy parts of your day, making a conscious choice not to complain. See Offering Boundaries & Being Role Models (Video).
  8. Teach “‘Tis better to give than to receive.” Even toddlers can buy or make gifts for others: Take young children holiday shopping at the dollar store. Challenge them to pick out gifts for others without buying something for themselves. It’s hard! See How to Inspire Generosity in Children.
  9. Make time for chores: Most children have about four hours between the time they get home from school and bedtime. During those four hours, they have to accomplish homework, extracurricular activities, dinner, bath, and bedtime. It’s hard to find time for chores. Without chores, children just can’t understand what it takes to run a household– they will take clean laundry and dishes for granted. Find age-appropriate chores for your children, even just 5-10 minutes per day. Consider leaving time-intensive chores for the weekend, such as yard work, bathroom cleaning, and linen changing.
  10. Let big kids take care of little kids: They say you can’t really understand what it takes to raise a child until you have your own children. Perhaps, but giving big kids responsibilities for little kids will start to help them have an attitude of gratitude towards their parents. Pair up big kids with little kids to get chores done or get through homework.
    • School aged children can read books to toddlers or help them get dressed. Your older children will gain self-confidence and a sense of responsibility, and the relationship they build with their younger siblings will last a lifetime.
  11. Give experiential gifts, not stuff: Too many toys? How about gifting a membership to the children’s museum, a soccer registration fee, or a camping trip? Experiential gifts build relationships, not materialism.
  12. Monitor your children’s media: Our children are bombarded with age-targeted marketing that they are too young to resist or understand. Media fuels materialism. It is our job to carefully monitor their media so that they aren’t dragged into marketing and made to feel incomplete or unfulfilled.