In this season of thanksgiving and gratitude, I’m guessing most parents talk to their kids about being appreciative of the blessings in their life. How often do we talk to them about helping other people as part of their daily lives?
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This time of year, my stepkids are laser focused on developing their Christmas lists. They each spend several weeks perfecting the list for optimal results. One of my stepdaughters organizes her list so carefully that she even includes links to each item. How helpful, ha!
When Craig and I got married, we talked about forming new family traditions that incorporated the kids and could become things they might look forward to each year, or at least remember when they have kids of their own.
Giving back is important to both of us and we agreed that we’d like to instill that value in the kids. I have been involved in some sort of volunteer work since I was in high school, and when Craig hasn’t been deployed over the years, he has also been active in church and community. So we decided to figure out how we could best teach the kids about giving back not just through holiday season traditions, but also in their daily lives.
Kids are already hardwired to be and to do good, but the adults in their lives must nurture these instincts. And it’s never too early!
LEAD BY EXAMPLE – GIVING BACK IS NOT JUST FOR THE HOLIDAY SEASON
Kids are constantly watching the adults in their lives for clues on how to behave and interact with others. And they are much smarter than any of us give them credit for. I have watched my stepson, without even realizing it, mimic things his dad says mere moments after the words have left Craig’s mouth.
If your children see you being compassionate and thoughtful on a regular basis, chances are they will learn that same behavior. Do you thank waiters and cashiers? My stepkids all do because they’ve grown up watching their parents do that. Do you say hello to people? Do you offer to take others’ dishes to the sink when you’re getting up to take your own?
My stepkids also see their dad and I signing up to help others. We talk to them about the various non-profits I’ve worked with. There is an annual 5K race that benefits one of the organizations I am on the board of, Bright Beginnings, so we participate as a family and we talk to the kids about how the race helps children experiencing homelessness.
Craig serves on a parental advisory committee for a local hospital and we talk to the kids about his work advocating for the families of sick children. We have adopted families for the holidays and we go with the kids and pick out their gifts and talk to them about being grateful for what we have and how important it is to help those less fortunate.
If kids grow up seeing volunteer work as a normal part of adult life, they’ll be more likely to take it on willingly and consistently.
So how do we set a good example and encourage children to volunteer and to help others beyond just the holidays? For starters, you can…
Do small acts of kindness with your kids.
For example, you can encourage your kids to:
- Do a secret good deed.
- Hold doors open for strangers.
- Help clean a local park.
- Shovel snow or rake leaves for an elderly neighbor.
Look for opportunities to volunteer as a family and talk to your kids about helping others:
- Are your kids active? Sign up for a local 5k that benefits a non-profit and then talk to the kids about that group and why it’s important to support charities.
- Are there soup kitchens in your area that will allow children to volunteer? Go together and talk to them afterwards about what they observed. Talk about the people you met and other ways you might help them.
- Take part in food drives at school or church. Talk about how it might feel to not know where your next meal might come from.
Find ways to incorporate their interests into a charity activity.
- Do they love animals? Try volunteering at an animal shelter.
- Are they into arts and crafts? They could make holiday decorations for a charity.
- Do they enjoy helping you in the kitchen? They could help you bake cookies for first responders.
- You could also help them make cards or assemble care packages for military personnel.
As a family, share your stuff with those less fortunate and talk to them about how it will help others:
- Food – have the kids help you sort through non-perishable items at home, or start a “donation basket” where each time you’re at the grocery store you pick out one non-perishable item (like a can of vegetables or box of cereal) and store it in a dedicated bin or box at home. When the box is full, take it to a local food back or homeless shelter. Let your kids carry the food in and give it to the staff so they can experience the physical act of giving.
- Clothes – Work with the kids each season to sort through their clothes to see what they’ve outgrown. Take the kids with you to donate it to Goodwill, Salvation Army, or other organizations that seek clothes. Talk to them about how it might feel to not be able to afford warm clothes in the winter.
- Toys: Have the kids sort through their old toys and decide what they want to donate. Don’t push them to donate their favorite toys, rather frame it as donating toys they have outgrown or no longer play with – you want them to be excited about giving away and not feel sad about a favorite toy they may be losing.
Talk to them about how to give money to worthy causes.
We make charity a part of the kids’ weekly allowance. We use famzoo.com, which is a great tool for managing allowances but one of the best things it does is allow you to allocate different amounts in various ways.
There are two options on famzoo – a prepaid card you can load for your kids, and an IOU account to track money you hold elsewhere. We use the IOU.
When it’s time for allowance each week, we remind the kids of their allowance total, but then 10% of their total allowance goes into a savings account for them, and 10% goes into a charity fund for each of them. Once each child’s charity “pot” is big enough (around $20), we talk to them about where they would like the money to go and then we donate it. This is a way to reinforce that giving is a part of daily life.
Famzoo costs $5.99 per month, but you can also prepay for 6, 12, or 24 months and save up to 58% on the fee. They offer a free two month trial to see if you like it – we did the trial and found it was well worth it to help us manage multiple allowances and discuss finances with our kids.
The bottom line for us is that it’s easy to “do good” during the holiday season, but it does take some thought, planning and effort to do it throughout the year. But – it’s totally worth it when you see the kids developing into kind, thoughtful people who want to help others.
I would love to hear your ideas. How have you taught your kids about giving back? Do they have any favorite causes or activities? Please comment below!