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Are Your Kids Ungrateful? Why Volunteering is the Solution for Selfish Kids

What 25 years of volunteering at a soup kitchen taught me (and my family) about life.
Last Updated
March 22, 2023
posted on
November 26, 2019
Minute Read

Parents often ask me how they can help their kids become less selfish and more grateful. Our kids are often consumed by their day-to-day anxiety of school, sports, and grades. We must find ways to ground them and allow them to see with fresh eyes. My answer is easy— take them to serve the poor in their community. 

Your kids will have the opportunity to help those whose struggles are things we often take for granted. This includes staying warm, finding hot meals and keeping their appointments at the local mental health facility. We hear about the importance of diversity and sharing life with those with different backgrounds and life experiences. But it’s rarely spoken as sharing life with others in poverty or stricken with mental illness. 

Walt and I chose to raise our kids in a small town. We wanted them to spend a lot of time outdoors and get involved in their community. Now that they are grown, I am so thankful that we made that decision. We did get to know many people in town, particularly a crowd that have otherwise never had the privilege to know: the homeless. 

Twenty-five years ago, our family helped serve meals at our local community program for the homeless. We loved it so much that we decided to help with meals during Christmas. From then on, we committed to serving once each month. Not only were we preparing food, but we had the opportunity of getting to know the people we were helping.

In the beginning, our kids weren’t sold on volunteering. Things like hanging out with friends, watching TV, or saving their homework for those Sunday afternoons were the priority. Luckily, after several months, our kids began to enjoy going each month. Community meals were non-negotiable. Walt and I believed that it was a family commitment that we were going to follow through on. 

The beautiful part of serving those we would not otherwise rub shoulders is that the six of us grew closer. When you are preparing and serving meals for others, you become equals. No one was more skilled or efficient than another. To succeed, we needed each other to lean on. We were a group of human beings who shared felt compassion, sorrow, and frustration. Being selfless for a few hours also made us very grateful. We had gratitude for our health and most of all, each other—as a family. 

Walt and I still serve. The reward is in the doing, and it is with the lives we are privileged to see. Watching others struggle is tough, but knowing that you are contributing to someone's healthy progression is priceless.

Volunteering has filled my family’s life with so much gratitude. Serving others has taught me these three lessons: 

  1. Doing things as a family strengthened our bond: By helping others, we shared the experience of meeting others, sharing stories, and enjoying a sense of accomplishment. 
  2. I learned a lot about my kids: I saw their work ethic, compassion, and frustration in trying to make life better for the homeless. Allowing them the opportunity to help others, allowed them to use problem-solving as a tool to give back.
  3. Befriending those far less fortunate not only builds gratitude for everything we have but the appreciation for what we have in common: At our core, we are all the same. Whether you’re homeless or not, we all get lonely, struggle to find joy, and seek meaning in our purpose. The only way we receive these is by removing ourselves from our routine lives and step into another's world.
Dr. Meg Meeker

Practicing pediatrician, parent, grandparent, coach, speaker, and author. Say hello on instagram: @MegMeekerMD or by email:

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