Getting Children Involved in the Spirit of Giving

By Kori Rodley Irons

Parents often complain that during the holiday season, the focus for their kids seems to be on “getting” – asking and receiving an abundance of gifts and treats. Everywhere they go, people ask them what the “want.” For many parents, all this wanting can get to be too much. Here are some suggestions for injecting a little “giving” into your little one’s holiday season and introducing your child to the joys of philanthropy.

One year, when my three nearly-grown kids were all still in elementary school, I told them one morning over breakfast that we were going to do a family project for the holidays. I told them I was going to give the three of them $100 to donate to charity and they got to decide how and to whom to give it. I explained that they could give it all to one agency if they all agreed, or they could split it up three ways and each manage their own $33, or they could decide to give some to various organizations. I told them I would put all the mail appeals we got in one basket and they could look them over. And, they were free to just decide on a cause (like feeding the poor) if they didn’t know which agency was working on that cause.

$100 felt like a lot of money to them to be in control over and they all three got into the project. In the end, they brought about 5 or 6 organizations and causes to the table and we took a vote on who and how much. It was a great way for them to find out more about what charitable organizations were doing in our community and take some of the holiday focus off getting and onto giving.

Some families choose to adopt a family who is less fortunate for the holiday season – looking for a family with a child or children close in age to their own. This is another great way to encourage a child to experience an act of charity. Other families I know choose to do something for animals – they spend a day walking dogs at the shelter, or put together a basket of necessities and treats for the animals awaiting homes. Still other families may choose to become involved with seniors this time of year. When I was a girl, our family used to make visits to the local nursing home during the holiday season. I must admit it was a rather reciprocal experience for me as the residents would fuss and fawn over me more than I was able to visit or play cards with them!

Collecting food for the local food pantry or even helping fill boxes and stock shelves can be a great experience for kids. Keep in mind, however, that this time of year many people think about becoming involved with charitable concerns and there may not be need for your efforts. Making arrangements to help at a time of year when they really do need you, or becoming involved as a family on a regular basis may be a much more helpful way to contribute.

I also know one family who gives a gift of a book to the local library each holiday and the children have been involved with choosing the book each year. This would be a wonderful way to support a local school, neighborhood branch or a city library. Some libraries keep a list of books they are planning to purchase and you can choose one, or perhaps a musically minded family would like to donate CDs to the library’s collection. Computer games, periodical subscriptions and DVDs of movies or programs may also be appreciated by your library.

As you look around your community and think of ways you can become more charitably involved during the holiday season, keep in mind your child’s age and interests. A cause more closely in line with your child’s own concerns will be more likely to leave a lasting favorable impression. Expressing a “giving spirit” during the hectic festive season is a wonderful way to create a lasting family tradition.

Kori Rodley Irons is a freelance writer, public relations and nonprofit management specialist living in the Pacific Northwest.

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