For many children (and many adults too), the holidays are all about "me, me, me" and "I want, I want, I want." No matter your age, it is easy to fall victim to the commercial nature of the season. But as parents, we have a responsibility to teach our children — and to remind ourselves — that giving is better than receiving, and that the true spirit of the holidays can only come from within.
Are you interested in teaching your children to appreciate the power of giving, but aren't sure where to begin? Don't worry, there are many simple ways to encourage kids to give back, in ways both big and small. And watch out — you may just find that you inspire yourself along the way.
1. Set an Example
As a parent, you are your child's first role model, and what you do tends to be more important than what you say. Simple acts like donating your spare change or buying extra groceries and delivering some to a local food bank won't go unnoticed by watchful eyes.
By being generous with your own time and material possessions, you can encourage your children to see giving to others as a normal and rewarding part of the holiday season.
2. Emphasize Generosity
It's fun to watch your children squeal with excitement when they open their long-awaited gifts, but try to shift at least some of the focus away from the presents they receive. Help your children brainstorm ideas of gifts they can give, and people they know who might enjoy receiving them.
Take your kids shopping so that they can choose and purchase gifts themselves, or help them make their own homemade presents. Watching someone open a gift you've made or chosen especially for them is a rewarding experience, and it's a small but important way to introduce children to the wonder of giving.
3. Make Giving a Family Tradition
Giving does not only have to take place during the holidays, nor should it. But establishing a special family tradition of giving back during the month of December can be a wonderful way to celebrate the holiday season.
For example, some families make an annual donation to charity, but wait until December to decide as a family who the year's recipient will be. Be creative when you're trying to figure out what your family can do to give back, and be sure to choose projects that really involve your kids and get them excited about helping others.
4. Harness the Creativity of Childhood
Children around the world are already doing some amazing things, and sharing their stories is a great way to inspire your own kids. A 14-year-old in Ohio recently started a Stockings For Seniors project after hearing about how how seniors in nursing homes feel left behind at the holidays, and The Ryan's Well Foundation, which brings safe water to thousands, was started by a 6-year-old with a determination to make a difference.
5. Choose the "Right" Project
Children respond to tangible results. When you're looking for opportunities to volunteer or give, try to choose a situation where they can see that their actions are having a real impact. One way to do this is to look for opportunities to help within your own community. Maybe you could deliver newly-wrapped gifts to a local children's hospital or shelter, or visit a nursing home to spread some holiday cheer.
6. Use Your Resources
Volunteer opportunities may not seem easy to find, but they can be — if you know where to look. DoSomething.org and Doing Good Together are among the hundreds of websites dedicated to helping individuals and families who want to to give back, and you can even find helpful lists like 12 Easy Ways to Give Back Over the Holidays.
Books can also be excellent resources for parents who are trying to raise compassionate kids. The World Needs Your Kids: How to Raise Children Who Care and Contribute comes highly recommended, or The Giving Book: Open the Door to A Lifetime of Giving is great to read as a family.
How are you teaching your children about the importance of giving this holiday season?