As a parent, I always look forward with anticipation for the delight in my childrens’ eyes as they open those gifts I’ve excitedly selected for them. My heart fills with gratitude for the abundance in our lives that makes it possible to give my loved ones the things they most desire.
I’m also reminded that not everyone gets to experience Christmas in this way – and I want my children to remember that too. We try to incorporate several opportunities to serve others into our holiday celebrations but it can be challenging to get kids excited about giving in a world that tells them this time of year is for “getting”. Thankfully, I’ve found some great ways to make the experiences more meaningful over the years…
1 – Loop them in.
It’s that age old mind trick – if kids think it’s their idea, they tend to be more enthusiastic about service. Let them brainstorm all the different ways they could give to someone in need and then you can guide them to the activity that works best for your family.
2 – Put it in their hands.
If you are giving to a charity, have pamphlets or websites your children can browse that tell about who they’re helping. Seeing pictures of those in need will give kids a deeper understanding of the wider world and ways they can make it a better place. For example, we give to Heifer International every year and I encourage my kids to look through the catalog they provide and think about how our donation might help struggling families. We choose together which animals we will send.
3 – Let them show off.
Kids love to use their talents and naturally feel good about themselves when they do. Identify your child’s passions and then find ways to incorporate them in a service activity. If your child is a lovely singer/musician, help them arrange to sing/play carols at an Elderly Care center. If your child is a great artist, suggest that they auction off a few pieces of their art for a good cause.
4 – Make it a tradition.
The more often kids are involved in charity, the more they will remember how great it feels to help others and begin looking forward to the family’s annual Day of Service. A traditional hot chocolate run afterwards can sweeten the experience too.
5 – Get Personal.
Putting their special touch on something can help kids enjoy giving back. Making Christmas “Thank You for your service” cards for overseas service men, local law enforcement or veterans can be a fun way to let little ones add their unique personality to a service activity.
6 – Create Something.
Most kids love crafting and creativity – plus, making something with their own hands can add a unique aspect to the act of giving. With parental supervision, children can sew and fill rice bags for cancer treatment centers, tie quilts for homeless shelters, crochet caps for the NICU, or even make blank Christmas cards to sell to neighbors in order to raise money for their favorite charity.
7 – Add a dash of Holiday Fun.
Combining a service project with an enjoyable Christmas activity can help boost enthusiasm for giving back. For example, while seeing the Christmas window displays or lights, your family can pass out disposable hand warmers to those living on the streets. Or while visiting a grandparent at a rest home you can build an extra 30 minutes in for visiting a resident who has no family.
8 –Invite Friends.
Kids love opportunities to hang out with their buddies and giving service together is a wonderful way to strengthen meaningful friendships.
9 – Think Small.
Teaching children that even small services can make a big difference is a wonderful way to help them get in the mood to give back. Consider creating an advent calendar that suggests a small service each day – a few examples might be: “Pay a compliment to someone you don’t normally talk to”, “Leave a dollar bill in the checkout aisle of the grocery store with a note that says “For you! Have a great day!”, “Write an anonymous note of love to a neighbor”.
10 – Think Big.
Giving to a charity that benefits an impoverished country provides children with an opportunity to learn about a foreign land and why they are in need of support. When kids feel connected to another culture and can envision the place their efforts will benefit, you are teaching them the power of one to make the world a better place.
What are you favorite ways to give back during the holidays?