The following is by contributor Jaimie.
Whew–the holiday season is well upon us and seems to have crept in out of nowhere. Or is it just that way for me? No matter what your belief system, it’s easy to get caught up in the gifts, treats, decorations, and family rituals and overlook those less fortunate. This holiday season, let’s work hard to give our children positive opportunities to be compassionate and focus on something other than sugar and flashy new toys.
Need some concrete ways for how to get your children thinking about giving? Here are a few ideas to get you started:
1. As a family, buy an animal for those living in poverty
If this is a new idea for you, check out Oxfam and Heifer International. Every year my children and I sit down and talk about families in need and reflect on our own good fortune to have a safe, warm place to live and abundant good food to eat. While this may be a little intangible for kids in that you don’t actually see the family or the animal in person, it’s a much easier concept for young kids to grasp than just making a general donation to a charity. And the websites include lots of information about how you’ll be helping a family or village with the purchase of something like a goat, or a chicken, or a beehive; there are photos, videos, and explanations. This need not be a big-ticket investment if you don’t have a lot to spare. Shares in a larger animal are as low as $10, and Oxfam has chickens for $15.
2. Donate a gift for a child in need
This is a very concrete way to encourage children to think of someone other than themselves. As our little ones are dreaming of the shiny new objects they want this holiday season, let’s help them gain perspective by helping put together a gift for a child who wouldn’t otherwise receive one. Plenty of community organizations and retail stores offer gift trees with basic information on children in need. If you can’t find one of these, ask around in your community. And this time of year, especially, children’s hospitals, shelters, and other community agencies are in dire need of donations.
3. Go out into the community and commit random acts of kindness
This is a particular favorite of mine. This year, my girls and I will be traveling through the metro system handing out small bags of treats with notes of holiday cheer to buskers, the homeless, and anyone else who might need a little pick-me-up. We live in a big city and walk by all kinds of people every time we leave the house, so this is an obvious choice for us. But even in a small town, you can go out and spread a little holiday cheer by surprising those whose work is particularly stressful this season–postal workers, security workers, even retail employees (perhaps *especially* retail employees!) What can you do to bring some unexpected joy to those in your community?
4. Bring a treat and some company to your elderly neighbors
This is a great time to remember those right in your own neighborhood who may be a little lonely or housebound this time of year. Engage your children in some art-making, baking, or whatever inspires you, and stop by your elderly or infirm neighbors’ homes to let them know you remember them and are thinking of them.
There are really infinite ways to get your children involved in giving back to the community, whether it be at the international level or right on your own block. These are just a few ideas to get you started. In what ways do you help your children learn to be compassionate during the holiday season?