Kids Health Matters: Make volunteering a new holiday tradition

Volunteering is becoming a new tradition for families during the holidays that pays benefits all year long.

On a Saturday morning last month, when many kids were asleep or playing video games, Cub Scout troop 243 was walking door to door, collecting bags laden down with donations for the 6abc Holiday Food Drive.

Even at 6, 7, and 8, the boys knew what they do matters.

Rashyne Patterson said, "We deliver to the people who need it."

But,Scouts aren't the only young ones in such efforts.

Not long ago, students from 17 schools collected 194 tons of food.

And 9-year-old Gunner Robinson gave up his birthday gifts to collect shoes for kids in need.

Dr. Katherine Dahlsgaard, a Children's Hospital psychologist, says community service is crucial to a child's developing brain.

She says, "It means having new experiences and meeting new people in a valuable way. And that can make a child's mind a much more interesting place to live."

Dahlsgaard says at this time of year, those experience broaden a child's understanding of giving - that it's not just about material things.

"Volunteering and community service can help a child learn that giving can mean giving your attention, giving your time, giving your compassion," said Dr. Dahlsgaard.

While it's never too late to get the kids into volunteer activities, Dahlsgaard thinks the best time to start is around age 6 or 7.

"At that point, a child is getting a sense of the outer world, and also getting a sense that other people live different lives," said Dr. Dahlsgaard.

And she believes parents should be involved, too - as role models, and to help kids process their experience.

She says study after study show that making getting involved makes us more happy with our own life, and young volunteers agree.

Marchant Wiggins says "It's good to give back to others, to be grateful for what you have."

D.J. Brown added, "Just helping out makes you feel good about yourself, and makes you feel good you're able to help other people."
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