The world can be a scary place for children. They see stories on the news or hear things from their friends that they don’t understand. One of the best ways to help children understand the pain and suffering in the world is to help them get more involved in volunteer activities. By the time our children are three-years old, they have begun to understand that other people have unique perspectives, experiences, and opinions. That means it’s never too early to start fostering empathy and kindness in our kids. The holidays are, of course, an excellent opportunity to impart this lesson. After all, it’s the “reason for the season.”
One of the very best ways to show your children the real meaning of the holidays is to encourage their involvement in charitable giving. Whether it’s through a monetary contribution or volunteer service, these real world, hands-on experiences will help develop self-esteem and social skills for years to come. Plus, it’s a great family legacy to add to your other favorite holiday traditions!
Here are some tips to help you get your children involved in charitable activities.
Schedule Some Time To Volunteer This Holiday
Between family visits and gift shopping, you might wonder where in the world you’ll find time for charity. The easiest way to start any new habit is to schedule it now. Maybe for your family it’s a one-day deal, or maybe you’re feeling more ambitious and you want to aim for a mitzvah every day of your advent calendar. Whatever works, schedule it now, and stick to it so your children can see this is an important priority.
Talk About The Importance Of Charity
The next step is to talk with your children about this. Let them know they aren’t just tagging along with Mom for this project. Instead, they’re active participants and leaders. Your children will be more engaged in the activity or cause if they feel like they are an important part. Furthermore, instead of simply going through the motions, they will actually gain an understanding of why they’re doing these good deeds. Maybe your daughter loves manatees, and she wants to explore how to help endangered species through a preservation group like Defenders of Wildlife. Perhaps your son has shown some interest in children from other countries and might want to learn more about UNICEF or Watsi. Whatever their area of advocacy is, try explaining why this work is important in terms they can relate to.
Have Fun With It
Make sure this experience continues to be fun and rewarding for everyone in the family. Charitable giving should never become something your children dread or resent. You can help by showing them how the little things they already do make an impact in your home or in the community. Does Sally keep Grandma company in the afternoons? Have Grandma write her a “thank you.” Commend Bobby on making the grocery store clerk’s day with his smile. As an added perk, when you’re looking for these small gestures, you’ll begin to appreciate them a lot more as well. Another great idea is to present your children with a gift commemorating their service—a photo, scrapbook, or other memento that tells them, “You made a difference, and I’m proud of you.” Seeing the results of their generosity is critical to them understanding the benefit of sharing—even if it isn’t a tangible reward.
Some Great Ideas To Get Started
So, what are some ideas that might work for you and your family? First, there are plenty of resources available online to identify organizations that need support. Check out Idealist, Charity Navigator, and Volunteer Match for starters. Be sure to help your children research these groups and explain why it’s important to select one that is transparent about how resources are used.
Start With Donating Items
One of the simplest ways to get started is by donating non-perishable food items and gently used clothing and toys to a local food pantry or agency like Goodwill or Salvation Army. Children can grasp the idea that other kids like them might need a coat or gloves to stay warm while they’ve got one to spare. That old toy that your children don’t play with anymore could also be loved by a little boy or girl down the street. Make a game out of cleaning the pantry, or challenge your child to find five items they can part with.
Try Caring for Animals
Another idea that’s easy to explain to children is anything involving animals. If your kids are like mine, they’ve asked for a puppy on more than one occasion. But if a pet isn’t in the immediate future, a great alternative can be a volunteer shift at your local animal shelter to learn more about the responsibilities of ownership. You might also consider making a donation in honor of your son or daughter to a preservation group. Many organizations offer the chance to “adopt” a member of an endangered species and will send regular photos and updates on their animal.
Consider Overseas Opportunities
For the globally minded kid, there are a whole slew of organizations devoted to helping children in developing countries. Whether it’s a pair of shoes, clean water, or a life-saving medical procedure, there are plenty of opportunities for a monetary gift. Talk to your child about setting aside a jar for the month of December where they can contribute part of their weekly allowance to go towards the cause. Promise you’ll match whatever they raise. Many of these sites allow you to read biographies about the individuals you are helping. Read these aloud with your child, and you’ll be touched by their empathetic response.
Work With Senior Citizens
If your children are a bit older, senior centers and nursing homes can be another great option to give back and spend time with another generation whose own families may not make it for the holidays. You can also bake some goodies together and deliver them to an elderly neighbor.
Lastly, feel free to encourage your children to think outside the charitable box. Plan a family field trip that will expose them to an important social or environmental issue. Take them along while you donate blood and explain how it saves lives.
Although the holidays offer an especially meaningful time of year to promote charitable giving in your family, why not make it a year-round activity? Now there’s a New Years resolution idea for you and your kiddos to consider!