We’re going to take a little break from our regularly scheduled programming and talk about something that is near and dear to my heart: being a blessing to those around us who may be in need. And as a healthcare professional, this is a situation I encounter with regularity. As a parent, I want to teach my children the importance of caring for those around them, whether physically, emotionally, or socially. I imagine you do too. But the path to achieving this goal can be vague. I have seen this question come up on the Facebook groups I am a part of several times already in the past week or two. “How can I teach my child to give back this holiday season?”. It’s a great question. And while the answer can be complicated, I do believe that it is also much more attainable than we make it.
Here’s a list of 5 ways we can bring the spirit of giving into our homes and hearts this holiday season:
Depending on the age of your kids, some volunteer opportunities (i.e. serving at a soup kitchen) may not be appropriate. But they might be able to help sort items at a food pantry or help organize/wrap toys at a toy drive. Be sure to call ahead if you plan to volunteer somewhere to find out if your kiddos can join in.
I would also encourage you to view volunteering as a family event even if your kids can’t physically come. There are a lot of places you go where you aren’t able to bring your kids along (work, the gym, girls night out, etc). That doesn’t mean you can’t talk to them about what you are doing and teach them by your example. If you routinely volunteer your time and intentionally talk to your kids about it, they will grow up knowing that helping others is just something that we do. And then when they are old enough, most definitely bring them along! It may be easier to bring them to a place you are familiar with anyway.
2. Participate in a Food Drive
Schools, churches, and many other organizations that we probably already belong to often organize food drives this time of year. I think this type of event can often be overlooked as an opportunity to engage our kids on this topic. Mom or Dad may just pick up a few extra things at the grocery store, send them to where they need to go, and call it a day. But this is a simple event that provides a huge opportunity, in my humble opinion.
One in five kids in Pennsylvania are hungry (1 in 6 nationwide, but numbers can be worse depending on your individual community). Your kids probably know some of the kids in these statistics. Connect that for them. Talk to them about what it might feel like to not have enough food in your house when you are hungry. My kids meltdown if they have to wait 10 minutes for dinner (and no, during said meltdown is NOT the time to talk to them about this). Their concern for this issue may surprise you. Take them to the store and let them help pick out the requested items. And be sure to include your child in the delivery of the items to their collection point. Give them some ownership in the process.
You can take this a step further too. Find a food bank near you and ask them for a list of items that are needed year round, or ask to be put on a list to be notified when they do not have enough of something (each food bank may operate a bit differently). This is a simple way that families can help year-round.
Contact a local organization and ask if they are in need of anything this season (homeless shelter, Salvation Army Children’s Services- Foster Care, local Boys & Girls Club, or even your school’s guidance counselor). They may need school supplies, food items, winter coats, kids pajamas, or other items. If your child is a little bit older, they may even want to organize a drive among neighbors or family members. All of these organizations operate year-round too. Consider taking this opportunity to ask the organization if there are ways you can help them other times of the year too.
4. Make Cards
Perhaps you do not have the physical resources to meet some of the needs above. Maybe your kids are too young to participate in volunteering. Don’t worry- there are more ways to help! We are surrounded by people who could use a little reminder that they matter, especially during the holidays. Maybe someone who is alone or maybe someone who works a thankless job (military, hospital staff, trash collectors). This activity is great for kids of all ages. Great for young kids because they can actively participate in the whole process (including card delivery), and great for older kids because it is an opportunity for you to encourage them to be thoughtful. Help them think about what the card recipient might like on their card (not just what the child likes to draw), what you can write in the card to make the person feel appreciated, etc.
I think this suggestion may be met with pushback that it “isn’t doing enough”. Yeah, it’s not solving world hunger or lifting people out of poverty. But don’t discount the little moments and the impact they can have on our kids, their hearts, and the people around us. A compassionate person is not necessarily one who donates to a charity once a year (no matter how large the donation), but rather, one who sees people, sees their needs, and moves towards them where they can.
5. Invite Someone Over
Similar to the last point, giving back doesn’t always have to be in the form of physical resources. Think through your contact list to someone who may live alone this holiday season. Maybe an elderly relative or someone you know who does not have family nearby. Maybe a family who moved from another country. It is no small thing to invite them over for a meal or an evening of watching Christmas movies and drinking hot chocolate. Again, this is a beautiful opportunity to talk to your kids about caring for others who may be alone or even feel sad during a season when everyone is supposed to be happy.
So while your kids may be circling away in their holiday catalogues or even whining about all the things they don’t have, plant some seeds of compassion during this season. Have conversations. Embrace the small moments. Remember that this wild and crazy parenting journey is a marathon, not a sprint. Your kids may not be the selfless angels you were hoping for just because they participated in a food drive. But we keep going. We keep practicing compassion, even when our hearts are struggling. And we strive to teach our children to do the same, during the holidays, and always.