Why Kids Who Play Sports are Great at Empathy

Source: Lukas Blazek, Pexels.com

My 10-year old daughter Chloe, along with her mighty Raptors teammates, recently played their hearts out in a tough soccer tournament. Over the course of the weekend, they played six games, fighting until the very end.

It came down to a tied match, ending in a series of penalty kicks. Each team had five kickers with five chances to score, each team alternating a turn against the opposing team’s goalie. The team with the most goals would win.

First up was our kicker versus their goalie. Then their kicker against our goalie, and on it went. In the fifth round, our team nailed it! Then we all held tight while the other team stepped up to take a fifth kick.

I have to say, it was so exciting! Parents from both teams nervously cheered on the kickers for their children’s teams. The air was electric with anticipation. Other soccer teams who had been playing in the tournament nearby even came over to watch and cheer from the sidelines.

The opposing team kicked, and our goalie dove to catch it. The ball popped out of her little hands into the air. But before it had a chance to land on the ground, she dove for it, and caught it! Our team erupted into cheers. We had won!

Amid our celebration, the opposing goalie burst into tears. I was standing next to her parents on the sidelines and congratulated them on their daughter’s great effort, offering her mom a hug.

What I saw next was incredibly touching. The girls from our team, including my daughter Chloe, gathered around the goalie from the other team, and gave her hugs and consolation. They also offered hugs to everyone on the other team.

When I finally found Chloe, I gave her a big hug and high five. Proud mommy moment! But as she hugged me, she reminded me to check myself. “Mom, she’s really upset! Let’s get off the field and celebrate later.”

I learned so much from her that day. Our kids showed us that with all their hard work and dedication to their sport, they had learned a lesson much bigger than how to score a goal, and gave us a lesson in empathy, too.

This wasn’t an accident. The decision to console the other players was entirely the girls’ idea, but it helps that Chloe’s coaches have created what researcher Mary F. Fry calls a “caring climate.” It’s focused not on winning, but on empathy and love of the game. Chloe and her teammates are valued and respected in a safe and supportive environment, one that has consideration for others. Young athletes in these environments report “greater empathy for others, more engagement in prosocial behaviors, better emotional regulation, more hope and happiness, and less depression and sadness than those in less caring climates.”

A caring climate has a huge impact on kids, and it creates opportunities for them to take the lead in caring actions. A group of middle schoolers in Michigan decided on their own to give up scoring points in a game so that their teammate, who has learning disabilities, could score a goal. As one player said, “I kind of went from being somebody who mostly cared about myself and my friends to caring about everyone and trying to make everyone’s day and everyone’s life.”

Another example is this team of youth soccer players in Barcelona, who comforted their opponents from Japan after winning the U-12 Junior Soccer World Challenge 2016.

And there are many more great examples.

Michele Borba, a renowned educational psychologist who specializes in empathy and bullying, says that “empathy is made of habits, habits that we need to work on.” We all have the basic tools for empathy, but it doesn’t just magically happen for kids. It has to be mindfully taught and activated.

Coaches, parents, teachers, and youth leaders can build on what they are already doing to model and encourage empathy by helping kids learn to love service to others through volunteering.

We have made it easy by taking out all the guesswork so that young people can find activities for causes they care about, wherever you are, whatever age they are, and whatever time commitment they can make. They can also log their service hours if they create an account, to help meet service learning requirements. Our YouthGive app for iPhone makes it super easy for parents and youth to find and track activities.

Coaches know that cultivating empathy leads to better performance on the field and in life, and it’s something that parents can feel good about encouraging, too.

This post was co-written by PGK Advisory Board member Liza Batallones and  Sundari Johansen, Manager of Strategic Engagement for PGK.

Make an Impact on Create the Change Day in 2018!

“One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.”

– John F. Kennedy

They say that Rome wasn’t built in a day. That it takes a lot of hard work to see a small change. And that tiny steps are worth celebrating just as much as big ones.

All these things are true. But sometimes, we can see a big, tangible change unfold in real time, right in front of our eyes.

Since 2016, hundreds of volunteers, including kids, parents and other community members, gather each fall in Project Giving Kids’ three home cities to spend a day making a difference. As PGK gears up for its third annual Create the Change Day, we’re reflecting on where we’ve been – and what we can still accomplish.

Create the Change events combine service opportunities for many local organizations under one roof, along with fun activities, inspirational speakers and the chance to see an immediate impact.

Interested in joining our events in Boston, San Francisco or Los Angeles (new this year)? Learn more about each
event on our website.

Last year, we:

  • Created 200 thank-you cards for veterans.
  • Assembled 520 toiletry kits for low-income and homeless individuals and families.
  • Crafted 200 pet toys for local animal shelters.
  • Collected 200 books for a library in Africa.
  • Prepped 1,000 silverware packets for St. Francis House’s annual Thanksgiving dinner.
  • Made 100 welcome-home keytags for people moving into homes for the first time.
  • Wrote 40 letters to city council members advocating for affordable housing.
  • Put together 150 shower bags for homeless women in the Boston area.

And if you don’t live in a PGK city, don’t worry; there are still plenty of ways you and your family can get involved this fall. Check out our redesigned activity finder to pick a cause and start making a difference today, wherever you are.

Help Your Kid Build Emotional Intelligence in 3 Simple Ways

We all want our kids to succeed, and we want to give them the skills they need to do it. But are you putting volunteer service on your child’s list of crucial extra-curriculars?

If you aren’t, here’s why you should.

Did you know that emotional intelligence is a bigger predictor of long term success than good grades?
Source: GIPHY

The biggest thing that is going to help your kid through their life and future career isn’t IQ, test scores, or academic skill – it’s emotional intelligence. Decades of research shows that kids who develop skills like empathy, resilience, and how to differentiate and name emotions are much more successful as adults, and much less likely to self-harm and engage in risky behavior as teens.

Volunteer service helps prepare teens for college, not just by looking good on college applications or qualifying them for service-oriented scholarships, but by strengthening their character.

It’s been proven that volunteer service is strongly associated with more positive outcomes such as higher grades, better mental health, and better follow-through with commitments.

Learning emotional intelligence through service to others is important at every age.
Source: GIPHY

Volunteer service helps kids seek out and listen to what others need, connect with them, and create meaningful emotional connections. We can help them name all those feelings and get comfortable talking about them, help them better understand how their actions impact others, and help them process how service affects their own lives.

Teens lose half their brains in puberty, and what they do in their teen years matters.
Source: Reaction GIFs

With teens, it’s especially important to reinforce lessons of empathy and giving. The pre-teen and teenage brain goes through several (literally!) mind-blowing biological transformations, and things like regular volunteer service can help teens establish and feed life-long habits rooted in personal responsibility, empathy, and compassion.

Showing kids and teens in real, concrete terms how their actions affect others can be challenging, but it’s also vital. Service helps make those lessons easy and positive.

We’ve created a simple challenge for kids and teens of all ages to help you get started.
Source: Gifer

A Little #GivingChallenge is designed to help young people of all ages reflect on these things simply and easily, so the lessons stick, reinforcing pathways in the brain that support empathy and kindness.

With A Little #GivingChallenge, we’ve taken out all the guesswork to help you get started. Three days for kids and teens to give back in three different ways, with three concrete actions.

 

A Little #GivingChallenge

  • Day 1: Help your family
  • Day 2: Do something kind for a teacher, friend, or neighbor
  • Day 3: Give back to your community

 

With our downloadable quick guide, you’ll get ideas for each day of the challenge and a place where kids can reflect on why they chose a particular activity. This moment of reflection is super important, as it’s what builds those pathways in the brain that help kids process and retain these lessons of empathy, service, and kindness.

Download the PDF here!


 

Create a Giving Kids Day!

I recently volunteered in my daughter’s preschool, organizing a Giving Kids Day. What a wonderful experience, from start to finish! Using the PGK website, we found three age-appropriate, fun projects for the kids to complete: assembling snack bags for the homeless, making cat toys for shelter animals, and decorating cards for homebound seniors.

We got started with a discussion about what it means to be a helper.  The kids quickly made connections to their own lives, discussing classroom jobs and sharing ways they like to help out at home.

Each project had an adult helper, and the students rotated through each. It was amazing to see how focused they were on the projects. The cat toys were challenging for many, but they persevered, many shouting in excitement, “I finally got it!”  I was impressed by how much time and care they put into their cards for seniors. Each card truly reflected their love and kindness. And to my surprise, their favorite activity was assembling snack bags. The kids liked it so much, many asked to assemble more. One sweet girl asked if she could add a second water bottle to her bag, noting one bottle was not enough to stay hydrated. Bless her little heart!

We wrapped up the morning with a debrief of the activities and discussion about ways they can continue to be helpers. Their teacher read The Giving Tree later that day, and many of the kids continued to work on cards and toys during quiet time for the remainder of the week. Inspired and impressed by the morning, the teachers have already discussed ways they can bring more service projects to the classroom.

It’s really that simple. Take a few simple projects, add the love of youngsters, stir, and make magic.

Want to arrange a Giving Kids Day at your school? The following steps will help you get started:

  • Use our activity tool or the YouthGive app to find local projects or ideas—if you’re working with younger children, focus on assembly style or arts and crafts projects to keep those little ones engaged!
  • Ask each of the families to donate a portion of the supplies (24 granola bars, 36 note cards, 50 Ziploc bags, etc.) Supplies should be due a few days before the event, as you may need time to fill in missing items.
  • Begin the day with a discussion or book about giving.
  • Talk to the kids about what they are doing and why. Ask them how it makes them feel to be helping others. These discussions will help them make stronger, lasting connections to service.
  • Take time to reflect and debrief with the kids. They will be so proud to see how much they accomplished together!
  • Remember to share their work with us and your community – parents, school, social media, etc. Share with us and tag #projectgivingkids on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter so we can give them a shout out, too! It’s heartwarming to see little ones giving back, and you may inspire others to follow in your footsteps!