Kids, Kindness, and Holidays
I recently went on a mommy-cation and came home to a holiday Lego catalog strategically placed by my five-year-old son, front and center on my desk. Within the catalog, he had used a Sharpie marker to identify the (many) Lego sets he wanted. The more circles he drew, the more he wanted the Lego set. My husband later told me that our son proudly completed this exercise as though he had done us a favor by pre-selecting items for our imminent holiday shopping. While I of course find my son’s efforts adorable, I also feel compelled to do HIM a favor this holiday season by providing a metaphorical catalog of opportunities for him to practice giving.
At my son’s malleable age, the holiday season becomes a critical time to start cementing his connection to giving because let’s face it, he, along with his fellow 4 million kindergartners are the future of philanthropy, volunteering and kindness. My husband and I try to weave these values into our family’s regular lives but because the holidays find kiddos hyper-focused on receiving, we feel even more compelled to engage our son in the spirit of giving. So for those fellow parents grappling with ways to engage your children in philanthropy and service this holiday season, here are just a few ideas and tips:
Make giving fun.
Preprint holiday thank you cards for your local fire and police departments. Attach some chocolates and have your children sign their name(s). Make a field trip to the station to hand deliver the goodies. If your kiddos are anything like mine, the up close sight of men and women in uniform is awe inspiring, furthering cementing the practice of giving.
Get a friend to join in the giving.
Get friends together for a play date. Purchase a box of candy canes and give the kids random acts of kindness cards like these found on Etsy. Kids can decorate the cards and then attach a candy cane. Make a field trip to a nearby school, nonprofit or hospital to leave the cards on people’s windshields. Kids will have a blast trying to place the cards on vehicles before being spotted.
Make the act of giving resonate.
Look at what your kids are currently interested in. Do they like the military? Send holiday cards to troops or if you live in an area like the Seacoast of New Hampshire, check out organizations like Pease Greeters to welcome troops as they deploy or return from duty. Does your child love reading? Have your child collect books that they no longer read and hand deliver them together to the local library.
Empower children with their giving.
My husband and I recently had a conversation with our son to remind him that each year our family chooses a cause to support for the holiday. We told our son that this year, he could pick the cause to support. That gesture created a wide smile and a clear shift in the way he thinks about giving. As a dog lover, he said he wanted to support the local animal shelter. We talked about ways he could raise money to buy dog food to donate to the shelter and offered to match any proceeds he earned. As someone who adores painting, he decided that he would paint ornaments and make mini canvases to sell to friends and family. He has transformed his play area into an art studio and is loving the activity of taking orders, collecting money, and playing “business owner.”
Add magic to their giving.
We, like many, welcomed the Elf on the Shelf into our home but last year also introduced the Kindness Elves, an adorable and brilliant invention by a couple of moms in England. In the twelve days leading up to Christmas, two elves leave messages at night with a kindness assignment such as “make cookies and deliver them to a neighbor,” or “sort through your toys to donate to kids in need.” The kit comes with colorful stickers and mini postcards to praise children for a job well done. The postcards then go in a little journal documenting all of the wonderful things they have done for others.
As adults we know the essence of giving is not being acknowledged for our good deeds. For children however, there is great value in introducing them to the genuine accolades that will inevitably come from people (and animals) on the other end of the giving. A recipient’s smile, hug, handshake, or a slobbery dog kiss will surely reinforce the power of your child’s giving for years to come and activate their right to think they can change the world.