The holiday season brings a ton of joy – there are so many traditions to create, newness to enjoy, and nothing beats seeing the excitement and anticipation on the faces of your little ones. Unfortunately, just as kids can sometimes develop a bad case of the “gimmes” from the overload of treats and sweets and gifts, us adults often lose focus on the true spirit of the holiday season, too. The best part of having kids is that you have the opportunity to essentially start anew with every season of life – everything is new again to you, too, and seeing life through their eyes brings renewed perspective. Celebrating holidays with young kids is the perfect time to start fresh traditions with a re-purposed focus.
Volunteering and giving back has endless benefits for children of all ages and adults alike – the experiences create awareness of others, foster a positive sense of self, build civic responsibility, develop practical skills, and grow grateful little hearts. Not only that, but volunteering is good for you. Recent studies found that people who volunteer have lower levels of depression, an increased sense of well-being, and the possibility of a longer life. And most beneficially, volunteering increases empathy.
Volunteering and giving back has endless benefits for children of all ages and adults alike – the experiences create awareness of others, foster a positive sense of self, build civic responsibility, develop practical skills, and grow grateful little hearts.
Young kids often, understandably, have a very narrow view of the world (their house, their car, their friends, their things), so expanding their field of awareness, perception, and understanding of other people’s lives, problems, and issues is integral. Learning to build empathy more deeply through connecting with people in need begins to create the understanding that, regardless of their situation, they are people who deserve dignity and respect. This mindset, especially given the reality of our current society, is so important in raising people who will be caring, compassionate, and considerate.
Of course, all of the experiences and volunteering opportunities are only strengthened by the conversation you create around them. Once you decide on the activity, talk about it both before and afterward. Ask questions: Why do you think we’re doing this? Why is it important? Do you think you made a difference? What was the experience like? Let them tell you how they feel and what they learned, instead of you dictating how they are supposed to feel and think.
If you are new to the volunteering experience, here are some tips on getting started:
- Choose activities that align with kids’ existing interests, but don’t limit volunteering to just that. The goal is to expand kids’ perspectives and worldviews, and exposing them to experiences that don’t exactly fall in their comfort zone is still important.
- Modeling makes a difference. Young kids won’t be able to fully reflect on an experience, but they will understand it’s important if they see it’s important to you.
- Be patient. They’re not going to “get it” at first. It takes a lifetime to learn the true meaning of generosity, the impact that volunteering has on oneself or others, or what it means to give back. Give it time – just be consistent.
- Involve children as much as possible, as appropriate for their age. Let them stretch a bit beyond their comfort zone — and yours. The more they do, the more they’ll learn.
- Don’t use volunteer work as a punishment. You don’t give back because you did something wrong – you give back because it’s the right thing to do.
And here are 10 ways to get your kids involved in giving back:
1. Help bake cookies and write thank you cards to give to local service people and volunteers
Baking is a kid-friendly and super simple way to show some appreciation for the helpers in your community. Bringing your kids around to hand out the thank-yous has an added benefit – the look on your little ones’ faces when they see their real-life superheroes is something you’ll always remember.
2. Pick up trash and litter wherever you go
This is perhaps the simplest way to make a big difference. Trash has consumed our society, and when we go outside, we see it everywhere. Setting an example for your kids to be conscious of their footprints is a lesson with lasting impact.
3. Make care kits for the homeless
The winter season is especially hard on the homeless. Making care packages with sandwiches, water, toiletries, and a warm pair of socks or gloves can bring a small moment of peace to those who are shouldering a lot of stress.
4. Hold a bake sale to support No Kid Hungry
One in every six children in the U.S. lives in hunger. As devastating as that thought is, you and your kids have the ability to make a difference. Every $10 you raise for No Kid Hungry will provide up to 100 meals for a child who needs them.
5. Have a neighborhood pajama drive for local women’s shelters
84% of homeless families in the U.S. are female-headed and includes about 200,000 children. Check in with your local women’s shelters and see what they are short on. Female hygiene products are likely always needed, and cozy pajamas for women and children can be an added source of comfort.
6. “Adopt” a family or foster child to gift to during the holidays
Local community outreach programs have options where you can gift to deserving families and children. Having your children choose age-appropriate gifts for other kids is a good way to show relation and connection with those who have different lives than yours.
7. Make bird feeders to hang on neighborhood trees
Giving back to your community includes the animals and Earth, and doing so reinforces to your children the idea that little things can create big change.
8. Clear out outgrown toys and clothes to donate
Your kids will be resistant to this at first, and that’s normal. But, making it a consistent practice will ensure a feeling of generosity, empathy, and the ability to let go of material things – all of which are vital for happy adulthood.
9. Collect sports equipment for youth sports programs in underserved communities
Sports are something that lots of kids enjoy partaking in, so the idea that many kids are not able to have the same experience is something they can begin to understand. Collecting equipment for areas that don’t have funding for athletics is not only doable but meaningful.
10. Gather donations for a meaningful cause instead of holiday or birthday gifts
Let’s face it – our kids are truly fortunate, and they have more than they need. Choosing to collect donations instead of gifts not only reduces constant toy clutter in your home but also instills a sense of altruism in your child and allows them to detach happiness and celebration from material things. A lesson for the ages.