Teaching Children about Service

Teaching Children about Service

My father regularly took one of us children with him when he shared our family’s plenty with others,” reports a service-minded priesthood holder. “Dad wanted us to learn early to recognize needs, to share, and to serve. We grew up thinking that’s how you live.”

During nearly every minute of our lives, each of us is either serving others or being served by them. Our balance of giving versus receiving depends largely on what we learn at a young age.

One family has a unique family tradition: Whenever they make treats, they always make enough to share with someone outside their family. “Now even the younger children have ideas about who we should take ‘extras’ to,” the mother explains. “To something that’s already fun—having a treat—there is now added joy, sharing the ‘extras.’”

What a sermon there is in that simple idea. Children who grow up sharing “extras” will likely not find it difficult to serve others as they grow older.

The Savior was a servant-leader. He taught: “Whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all” (Mark 10:44).

Parents, too, are servant-leaders. Parents who are unselfish in their own relationship with each other will help build an unselfish attitude in their children. Just as the Savior could do “nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do” (John 5:19), our children need good models to follow.

Giving of yourself as husband or wife is one way of showing your children how to serve.

AS A HUSBAND, you can serve your wife by—

  • willingly helping at home;

  • helping care for the children;

  • giving her a priesthood blessing in times of special need (anxiety, stress, fatigue, illness);

  • continuing your courtship after marriage;

  • learning about her responsibilities at work and in her Church callings;

  • listening to and discussing her ideas and concerns;

  • loving her.

AS A WIFE, you can serve your husband by—

  • bringing beauty into the home;

  • making the home run smoothly;

  • continuing your courtship after marriage;

  • learning about his responsibilities at work and in his Church callings;

  • being his companion and best friend;

  • listening to him;

  • loving him.

When children see the unselfish example of parents serving one another, they will be more likely to want to find ways to serve also.

AS A CHILD, you can serve your parents, brothers, and sisters by—

  • being responsible enough with your own tasks and possessions that you can be free to offer help;

  • avoiding complaints when asked to contribute, so family members will feel like asking you again;

  • noticing things on your own that need to be done—and doing them without being asked.

  • loving the members of your family.

The Savior himself set the pattern of service for us to follow as he spoke of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and befriending the stranger: “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (See Matt. 25:40).

Serving within the Family

For young children, the word help may be easier to understand than serve. Children can realize that we all need help sometimes. Even mothers and fathers need help from one another and from their children.

Every day, there are countless acts of service a child can perform, such as helping in the kitchen, running errands, caring for younger brothers or sisters, tidying the house, or helping in the yard.

By talking with children from the earliest ages about the value of helping, sharing, and serving, we are cultivating an attitude about service that shapes the way they view the world.

Helping others in the family also gives children a strong sense of belonging. For instance, older children can help younger ones learn skills such as bicycle riding, catching a ball, counting, playing games, or working at hobbies. They can help with school studies and read stories to them.

When a child is busy helping, he is less inclined to be self-centered. Teaching our children “to love one another, and to serve one another” can be an antidote for fighting and quarreling. (See Mosiah 4:14–15.)

As President Spencer W. Kimball taught, “When we are engaged in the service of our fellowmen, not only do our deeds assist them, but we put our own problems in a fresher perspective. … There is less time to be concerned with ourselves” (Ensign, December 1974, page 2).

Serving Outside the Immediate Family

A grouchy neighbor became a friend to one family who chose to serve him rather than take offense. “We felt prompted to go over as a family and offer Mr. Sloan some service,” says the father. “We took him some homemade bread and washed his outside windows because they were hard for him to reach.

“The children claimed they had never seen him smile before. But they’ve seen that smile a lot since that day. Bobby, seven, collects Mr. Sloan’s mail for him every day after school. Susie, twelve, walks Mr. Sloan’s dog on a leash around the block. And Peter, fifteen, mows his lawn.

“Serving Mr. Sloan has taught our family to love him, and we think he has learned to love us.”

President Spencer W. Kimball taught, “God does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs. Therefore, it is vital that we serve each other. … So often, our acts of service consist of simple encouragement or of giving mundane help with mundane tasks, but what glorious consequences can flow from mundane acts and small but deliberate deeds!” (Ensign, December 1974, page 5).

Our service need not wait until we devise some elaborate means or project. Often the simplest, most obvious thing is what is needed most, like a thought expressed by telephone or a note in the mail.

Reasons for and Benefits of Service

Jesus taught us to serve one another without thought of receiving praise or reward. Even small children can learn to do things anonymously. They may enjoy doing secret good deeds, such as shining the family’s Sunday shoes or making a sister’s bed. If a youngster experiences the good feeling that naturally follows, he will seek out other ways to be of help.

You will want to express genuine appreciation and encouragement when your children serve. But guard against lavish praise and other incentives that tend to manipulate behavior. Such efforts can too easily displace the inherent rewards of service. Outside rewards help correct problems with children, but they cannot be expected to teach children to do the right things for the right reasons. With a loving example, in an environment where serving each other is practiced patiently and sincerely, children can learn to serve willingly.

Start today! As a family, outline together ways you can begin serving more. Discuss ways you can find more joy in the service you may already be giving.

[photos] Photography by Jed A. Clark