Helping Others Helps the Brain

Monday, January 18, 2010

Today we honor and celebrate a great man in American history, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  His vision of equality and serving others has enhanced our nation.  To properly honor and remember him, Congress created the National Day of Service.  On this day and throughout the year, you and your children can help others while helping your brain at the same time.

The brain benefits by activating the reward centers when we give to others. Research has demonstrated when giving, the brain releases dopamine which is responsible for the feelings of euphoria. Additionally, it has been shown that the hormone oxytocin was released in study participants. This increases levels of trust and cooperation.

Isn't it wonderful to realize that the pleasure areas of the brain respond to not only what is good for ourselves but also to what is good for other people?!

To help develop this, following are some activities to do with your children that will also helps others:

One For You 
Give  the child the opportunity to have an item and give an item to someone else. For example:

Say, “Here is a book for you. Can you give the other book to (name of another child)?”

Note: Toddlers do share, but the brain isn’t ready to completely understand sharing at very young ages.  At this age giving something to someone when they have the same thing will be the best way to practice.

Doing Nice Things Makes “Cents” 
Provide a “giving jar” and a supply of pennies. Every time someone in the family does something nice or thoughtful for someone else, a penny can be added to the jar. At the end of the year use the money to donate to a cause you want to support or help.

Write or Draw for Someone
Set time aside regularly (once a week or once a month) to have your child write a letter or draw a picture to send to someone.  This could be sent to a relative or friend, someone that is sick or hospitalized, a deployed military person, etc.

Celebration Give Away
At each holiday or birthday, give the child an extra gift to give away. Your child’s brain reward center will benefit most when involved in deciding who should receive the gift.

To find more opportunities to serve, visit
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