Elements of a Confident Kid… Service Minded

Service Minded by Jennifer Miller

Elements of a Confident Kids by Jennifer Miller

– noticing others or environmental needs, feeling empathy and desiring a role in contributing to their or its well-being.

About being service minded

A service-minded person is both self and socially aware. She must know her own strengths and limitations. She sees what contributions she can make and how they relate to other’s unmet needs. She gives freely in order to assist others. And in her social awareness, she is empathetic and compassionate. She works to understand others’ perspectives. She relates and makes honest and trusting connections with them. But she does not make the other’s sorrows and pains her own. Her ability to serve lessens or may be taken away if she does. Individuals who are successful contributors are skilled problem solvers but also realize that the best and most sustainable solutions are generated directly by those who have the problem. Children who engage in service have the opportunity to exercise every social and emotional skill in an authentic setting. They can find a sense of strength and purpose as they discover they are able to significantly contribute to the people and places they encounter daily.

Promoting service mindedness

So how do we promote a service mindset in our homes with our children? The origins of a service mindset exist in the heads, hearts and actions of parents themselves. When you look around at your daily interactions, who has unmet needs? And how are you contributing the best of who you are to those in your own home as well as your neighborhood, school and community? As spring emerges and we focus on rebirth in the natural environment around us, we are reminded to reflect on our involvements and if and how we are contributing our strengths. Children in your household will see, hear and begin to understand that your engagement in your community is a part of being a responsible person. Be certain to bring them along when you take gently used clothing to The Salvation Army or you deliver a prepared meal to a friend who is sick. Let them see you engaged in thinking about others and giving. Here are specific, practical ways to bring service mindedness into your family’s life.

Providing opportunities to serve at home can be one of the best ways to promote service mindedness. Be certain that all family members are not only aware of ways they can contribute to maintaining your caring home environment, but also prepare children for any new roles. At various ages and stages, children can take on new responsibilities in everyday life such as setting the table for dinner, making their beds or cleaning up after themselves. These do not need to be attached to rewards or punishments but can be expectations of who we are and how we contribute to our home as a family.

When introducing a new responsibility, try interactive modeling as a way to teach your child how to contribute. We, as parents, often forget that children are still learning many ways of doing things that we take for granted. Interactive modeling can be a way to ensure you are doing what you can to help your child learn the actions necessary to meet your expectations. From author Margaret Berry Wilson’s book, Interactive Modeling; A Powerful Technique for Teaching Children, we can learn from the seven step process that teachers use in schools. 1

1. Say what you will model and why.
2. Model the behavior.
3. Ask your child what he noticed.
4. Invite your child to model.
5. Ask what he noticed with his own modeling.
6. Practice together.
7. Provide specific feedback starting with strengths using “I notice…”

The following is an example of how this might look between a parent and child. Be certain and pick a time to do this when you do not have time pressures.

1. You might say, “Watch how I play waiter. You can try it after me!” You could wear an apron like a waiter might or put on a name tag.
2. Now set the table as you would like it and as your child watches and you go through the motions, be sure to notice any areas that may pose difficulties for your child such as getting out and placing knives at each place setting. Address those directly. “Since the knives can be dangerous, I’ll do that part of the process each night and you can do the rest.”
3. Ask, “What did you notice when I was acting like a waiter?”
4. You might say, “Okay, your turn to pretend to be the waiter” Dress him up in the apron and name tag to maintain the fun.
5. After he plays his role ask, “What did you notice when you did it?”
6. Now practice it together. Don’t skip this! It’s important that your child gets the chance to work alongside you and you cooperatively go through the process.
7. In providing feedback, be specific and start with strengths. “I noticed you handled the silverware carefully. Terrific! When you put the napkins down, be sure to count so that each person gets one.” If you share too many issues, your child might tune out so pick your top few areas for improvement and stick with those.

Announcing to your child, “You are going to start contributing around here and we’ll start with you making your bed.” could incite a power struggle. Telling your child what to do without their engagement at the outset certainly does not engage a child’s motivation to contribute. Many parents and teachers use reward stickers or charts to guide home contributions. Though it may seem an easy solution, it does not help children internalize their role as a family member and contributor. Instead, it serves as bait and sometimes may not be enticing enough to keep the motivation high. Why not engage their intrinsic motivation for feelings of autonomy, belonging and competence and work with them on the skills and processes necessary to be successful?

Prepare your confident kid with the mindset of service and contribution. If you get started when your children are young, they will already be eager to find ways to help out and contribute. Though it will take patience on your part and may extend the length of time getting chores accomplished, it will pay off in the long run as it becomes a part of the ways we do things as a family.

On one of the many snow days off school this winter, I offered my son the option of two different games or helping me sweep and clean our hardwood floors. To my pleasant surprise, he chose the latter (true story!). And after I did the interactive modeling, we worked side by side. I noticed I had to hold myself back from going behind him and filling in areas he didn’t finish thoroughly. But after teaching him, I needed to let him feel that he was doing the job competently. “This is fun!” he said and that memory will stay with both of us the next time we have a family chore to accomplish.

It’s never too late to begin to engage all family members in contributions. Go through these steps. Do the work together for the first few times. Create a routine in which you do the work at the same time each day or each week. Mark it on the calendar as a reminder to you both. Ultimately, contribution is hard work. But the feeling of being able to significantly impact others is one of great power, freedom and connection that can only come from the service experience. Try out this interactive modeling process and both you and your child can feel confident that he knows exactly how to contribute to your home and family.

There are many other ways to promote service mindedness. For additional ideas on how you and your family can get involved in your neighborhood, school and community, check out “Citizen Kid.”


1. Wilson, M.B. (2012). Interactive modeling; A powerful technique for teaching children. Turners Falls, MA: Northeast Foundation for Children.

2 Comments on “Elements of a Confident Kid… Service Minded”

  1. Have you been in my house and heard me say this? (“You are going to start contributing around here and we’ll start with you making your bed.”)

    The concrete applied example is really helpful here, Jennifer. I tend to keep looking for chances to serve outside our house but there are so many barriers to this (mostly timing and finding an opportunity that matches our ability level). It is so powerful to think about starting first at home. I am surprised how much I continue to do for the kids just because it feels easier than making them engage with tasks at home. I had not thought about the connection between this and helping others. This “a ha” moves in home chores way up on my priority list! Thanks for the thought-provoking post!!

    • Shannon, Thank you so much for your comment. It’s true! I find myself cleaning up after my son and stopping myself in the middle of it! I know if I am going to truly promote responsibility, I need to step back — even though it typically requires more time and patience on my part – and let him do it even if he’s in the middle of playing with friends. I think the baby years train us to do it all and I know I forget along the way that the more I can teach him what to do and them remind and reinforce his contributions, the more responsible for our home he’ll be. Maybe his wife will thank me so day. 🙂 That’s my hope, anyway! Thanks again for your thoughtful comment!!!

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