Giving makes us happy. The act of giving is the universal way we show appreciation, gratitude, compassion, and strengthen bonds with others. We learn early in our lives that it feels good to give. Who doesn’t enjoy seeing a person’s eyes light up and their smile widen with joy as we give them a gift? Giving gifts is part of who we are!
My niece, who will be turning 10 in a few days, has always been a natural giver. She has a big family, is the only granddaughter, an only child, and has both her birthday and Christmas in the same month. I’ve heard her say repeatedly that we give her too many gifts! When she was seven, she decided that she didn’t want her friends to bring presents to her birthday party. She asked each child to bring kids shoes to donate to a children’s charity. She reminds her mom that she needs to give away her clothes, shoes and toys that she has outgrown. She frequently does fund drives for causes in her church, her school, and in the community. She goes out of her way to help those in need and befriends the friendless. She is a constant inspiration to her family, and to me!
With her influence and desire to get back to the true meaning of the holidays, our family’s holidays have been steadily becoming more and more simple. We focus less on giving each other gifts. We spend more time on just enjoying being together. And, we challenge each other to give back to others in need instead of spending on ourselves. A recent poll has shown that most Americans truly want a holiday season with less materialism, consumerism, and more focus on family and caring for others, not giving and receiving gifts. In our consumer-driven society, the push has always been for us to buy and give more “stuff”. How can you encourage your kids to get in the spirit of giving back to others during the holiday season? I’ve compiled a list of fun and heartfelt ways you can encourage your kids!
1. Give a heartfelt gift to local first responders
Take handmade goodies, like cookies or a pan of brownies to a local fire, police, or EMS department in your community. Show your appreciation for the men and women who help us in our hours of greatest need!
2. Send cards to a missionary
What a difficult, and thankless job being a missionary can be, I imagine! I’m sure your family or church knows someone serving abroad that could use some cheer and encouragement (via thebettermom.com).
3. Take a meal to a family in need
Do you know of anyone in your neighborhood or place of worship who could use a nice hot home-cooked meal or be treated to some great takeout? Think of families that have just had a new baby, or someone struggling with illness, or who have recently experienced a loss (via momentsaday.com).
4. Write a card to servicemen overseas
This can be a great opportunity to share the important concepts of freedom and the military with young children (via thebettermom.com).
5. Go caroling at a local retirement or nursing home
Always call before you go, but most homes are happy to have children come entertain, give smiles, and hugs to the residents.
6. Create a family giving box
Designate a cardboard box or plastic container that your kids can fill with toys, clothes, and books that they’ve outgrown. Donate the items to a local shelter, the Salvation Army or Goodwill (via newdream.org).
7. Have animal lovers in your house?
Offer to walk or give a bath to an elderly person’s dog. As a family, volunteer at a local pet shelter or donate handmade cat and dog toys.
8. Offer to pick up groceries for a neighbor
Who doesn’t know a neighbor or family who could use a little break? A single mom, a homebound widow, a family going through a difficult time. If you can’t think of anyone, ask your place of worship, a shelter or local clinic who could use a little extra help! Have your kids help check off the lists, placing items in the cart, and unloading the car.
9. Pick up litter
Call your local parks and recreation or just find a street in your town that could really use a little tidying up! This makes a great outdoor family project. Just make sure you do it safely and carefully.
10. Make homemade cards and pictures
Get out the markers, crayons and paper and make homemade cards or just have the kids color pretty pictures. Drop them off at a rehabilitation center or hospital (via millionsofmiles.com).
11. Leave nice thank you notes
Consider all the people who serve us throughout the year, and we don’t always remember to thank! Have your kids leave a nice thank you note and maybe handmade treat for the garbage person, postal carrier, or school bus driver.
12. Grab a broom, shovel, or rake!
Give your kids a broom, shovel or rake and put them to work! Sweep porches, rake leaves, or shovel snow for the elderly, the sick, single moms, or those experiencing illness.
13. Make a Helping Jar
Have your kids decorate a special container or jar. Save leftover lunch money, random coins found on the sidewalk, and the surprise $10 bill discovered in a coat pocket in a jar. Encourage them to do chores to make money for the helping jar. Take your kids to a grocery, dollar or drug store to buy nonperishable food, travel-size toiletries, tissues and other care items to take to shelters or give to homeless people (via dailyparent.com ).
14. Give gifts that give hope and give back: alternative gifts
I couldn’t help but include my favorite way of giving: alternative gifts! Why not give grandma and grandpa, siblings, teachers, and other people who are special in your lives a gift that actually gives back? Alternative gifts are donations you give to nonprofit organizations and give in honor of the your loved ones and people you care about. Many churches, nonprofits and communities offer alternative giving opportunities. I’ve been involved with an organization called Gifts That Give Hope, Lancaster for over 7 years. We hold a festive and fun community fair each year. Our nonprofits present their “gifts” such as providing shelter for the homeless for one night, seeds for a school nutrition garden in Zimbabwe, school kits for refugee children, or milk provided for 12 needy families. It’s amazing to watch families wandering through the fair, discussing which meaningful and heartfelt gifts to give to people they care about. All the while, the kids learn about the needs in our backyard and across the globe.
[Gifts That Give Hope] changes lives, instills peace, shares joy, teaches compassion, shows gratitude…invites people of all ages to participate in helping their neighbors, close and far. An emotional journey of the senses…it moves people. They open their hearts and pockets. They help others feel good. They feel good.”-Gina D’ambrosio, a Gifts That Give Hope shopper and supporter.
15. Hugs and Smiles
Of course, the simplest way to share joy and giving is to simply smile or hug someone! Make it your family’s pact to smile at 5 strangers a day. Give hugs to people you love, just because. Give hugs to someone who really needs it. Share smiles and hugs whenever the moment presents itself. Smiling and hugs are free. They are easy to do and they bring more joy and encourage the spirit of giving more than any present we could buy!
These are just a few of the fantastic ideas that I’ve come across over the years. If you want to get more ideas from other organizations, check out the Gifts That Give Hope, Lancaster pinterest board, For the Kids for more ideas.