A survey on Parenting.com found that three out of four moms consider their kids “spoiled.” At the same time, three-quarters of the survey respondents felt guilty for saying “no” to gifts on their children’s wish lists. We know that a spirit of gratitude and selfless giving is at the core of happiness. It’s all too easy to get lost in day-to-day activities, so many parents use the holiday seasons to teach volunteerism, charity, and humble generosity.
For the best impact, start simple with the little ones. Kids as young as three can start to comprehend that there is a world beyond their own immediate needs and that giving is tied to receiving. For older children, find something that plays into their passion – like reading to the blind for the bookworm, playing at a homeless shelter for the musician, or knitting scarves for soldiers overseas for the crafty child. The best activities are done together with our kids to model the philanthropy we wish to teach.
Here are some ideas of annual traditions to start or ways to weave the spirit of giving into everyday life…
1. Volunteer at a local soup kitchen.
The Food Bank for New York City needs 800 volunteers each week to feed the city’s hungry – and that is just one of the many opportunities. Kids can accompany you to work in the kitchen, organize donations, and serve trays of food. The Holy Apostles is the area’s largest emergency soup kitchen that hands out 1,000 nutritious meals each day. The magazine 6 Sq. Ft offers a comprehensive rundown of 13 places in NYC you can volunteer in a myriad of ways over the holiday season, whether it’s delivering meals to the elderly, making gifts for those in need, decorating a local theatre, or putting together “blessings bags” for a homeless shelter. Mommy Poppins lists even more activities to check out this Thanksgiving season.
2. Run or walk for charity in a turkey trot.
You don’t have to be a professional runner to participate in a local 5-K. Many locals walk the race with family and friends just to get some fresh air outside and burn off extra calories. The day after Thanksgiving dinner, take the family to Roosevelt Island for a scenic route. There is also a kids’ dash available for the youngest participants. Prior to the race, you can register to “run for a cause.” This year, the New York City Turkey Trot has partnered with the Young Survival Coalition to support young women affected by breast cancer.
3. Read Thanksgiving books.
There’s no reason why you can’t get toddlers thinking about kindness and doing for others. Add to your library: “Thankful” (Eileen Spinelli), which conveys the importance of finding blessings in everyday life; “Bear Gives Thanks” (Karma Wilson), which shows the many ways one can contribute; “Little Critter: Just a Special Thanksgiving” (Mercer Mayer), which follows Little Critter from school plays and parades to preparing and serving a feast for the whole community; “Happy Thanksgiving, Curious George” (H.A. Rey), which offers short poems to highlight everything the curious little monkey loves about the holidays – including making crafts for guests and sharing a meal with the man in the yellow hat; “The Giving Tree” (Shel Silverstein), which shows the selflessness of a tree that would give everything to a growing boy; “The Berenstain Bears Think of Those in Need” (Stan & Jan Berenstain), which teaches how donating can help others; “Boxes For Katie” (Candace Fleming), a story of international care packages sent to a young pen pal following WWII; “The Spiffiest Giant in Town” (Julia Donaldson), a story about how the scruffiest giant becomes the spiffiest, but realizes others in town need his new purchases too; “Oswald’s Treasures” (Alison Inches), where Nick Jr’s lovable blue octopus learns the value of cleaning out his closet and giving to friends; “It’s Mine” (Leo Lionni), which introduces the littlest ones to more rewarding activities than laying claim to everything.
4. Donate toys.
With Christmas around the corner, there’s no time like the present to clean out the closets and toy chests. For little ones, you can try tucking away old toys they don’t play with for six months and donating anything they don’t ask for. It can be too emotional for youngsters to part with their beloved items, and pulling them out of storage just makes the toys appear “new” and desirable again. Older kids may be mature enough to choose items they no longer play with or want. Avoid telling the kids you have to get rid of the old to make room for the new. Instead, explain that donating is a kind way of helping the less fortunate. You can also participate in a church program or national toy drive like Toys for Tots, which provides new gifts for disadvantaged children. Operation Christmas Child is an easy way to help those in need around the world by simply paying $9 for shipping and filling a shoebox with thoughtful gifts that will be sent to impoverished kids in another part of the world.
5. Pay a visit to the elderly.
Loneliness has been touted as a bigger health risk than smoking or obesity. Get involved with Adopt-A-Grandparent to provide an elderly member of the community with the gift of companionship and social activities. DOROT has a create-a-card-for-a-senior program for kids who love art. They are also looking for child volunteers to play chess with the elderly. VolunteerMatch can connect you with local programs that benefit older New Yorkers.
6. Create crafty favors for your dinner guests.
When your kids are very young, it helps to start a spirit of charitable giving with those you know. If you’re hosting dinner this year, what better way to get the kids involved than with a thoughtful craft that will bring smiles to all who visit? They can create place mats for each guest by making handprint turkeys, adding stickers and glitter for added fun. Slightly older kids can create placeholder cards with a special note inside for each guest. Ask your child to describe why the person is special to them or why they are thankful for each guest. Or you can download this free leaf pattern from Better Homes & Gardens, cut out the leaf shape, punch a hole in the base, and tie them to wineglass stems using gold cord or raffia to make drink tags. Ask each guest to write a word or phrase about what they’re thankful for.
7. Showcase your child’s thoughtfulness.
Here’s something you can do all year through: prioritize generosity. A report by Harvard University’s Making Caring Common Project found that teenagers value academic achievement and individual happiness over caring for others because they believe that’s what adults in their lives value most. Make a point to explain that in addition to doing their academic best, you expect your children to care for others. Instead of just celebrating A+ grades or athletic wins, proudly display photos of your kids engaged in charitable projects. Thank them for helping others and let them overhear you describing how kind they are.
8. Encourage teens to start a giving plan or passion project.
If charity is part of your life, share your experience of giving with your teen. Talk to teens about charitable causes that spark their interest and help them research local programs to connect their passions and abilities with opportunities to help. Give your child three small plastic containers or envelopes labeled “Save,” “Spend,” and “Give.” Let them decide which percentage to allocate to each plan. You’ll not only encourage charity, but fiscal responsibility, too.
9. Surprise a neighbor.
The idea of doing “random acts of kindness” to brighten someone’s day has been spreading over the years. One popular trend is to bake a pie and deliver it to a neighbor’s doorstep. This time of year, who wouldn’t love a delicious apple or pumpkin pie? If you don’t have a favorite recipe, you really can’t go wrong with Taste of Home or Better Homes & Gardens. For $9.95, The Good Neighbor Pie Kit gives you three heavy duty reusable pie tins and three pie postcards to give out.
10. Surprise a stranger.
There are so many thankless jobs out there. Teach your kids about giving to people in the community by having them write a “thank you” letter to a trash collector, mail carrier, bus driver, grocery store cashier, retail worker, doctor, firefighter, cook, waitress, or someone else in the community. Have them deliver the letter with candy or a gift card. Ask them thoughtful questions later, like: “How did the person respond? How did the response make you feel? What if we did this once a month instead of once a year?” Another way to spread holiday cheer is to make homemade ornaments to pass out to strangers – people on the bus, individuals at church, or seniors in the supermarket. If you need some inspiration, check out these 55 Easy Homemade Christmas Ornaments To DIY from Country Living. Explain that the idea is to surprise someone by noticing them and offering a gift, no strings attached.
Have a blessed and inspired Thanksgiving holiday from Shine NYC!
By Jenn Fusion for Shine