Parenting is a Journey
An Adventure of Discovery Not Only of our Children But of Ourselves as Well
Somewhere between eating too much turkey and ripping open Christmas presents is a chance for gratitude and giving.
Three of the seven deadly sins — gluttony, greed and sloth — can take over the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas and overshadow the meaning of the holidays. But they don’t have to.
Families focused on spending time together can use it as a chance to be thankful for what they have and reinforce the importance of giving to others. To help children, and parents, better understand this and learn empathy, it can help to volunteer during the holidays.
While the thought of volunteering is fresh on the mind, December can be a good time to encourage children to give back throughout the year.
Volunteering can teach many important values, including empathy, self-esteem and civic responsibility and can serve as a way to explore new interests. Studies have also found that volunteering can lead to lower death rates and improve mental health.
“You want your children to learn proper values, life lessons that will sustain them all of their lives,” said Candi Wingate, president of Care4Hire in Norfolk, Neb. “Your children’s most powerful learning opportunities come from what they observe you saying and doing as well as what you all do together as a family.”
Five ways to volunteer year-round
There are probably all kinds of volunteering opportunities in your area, but one way to help children start is to talk to them about the need for help.
Mark Aselstine lives in an urban neighborhood where people are sometimes asking for money on street corners and in front of the grocery store. It’s a chance to talk to his children about the importance of giving to others, Aselstine says.
“I think just having the conversation with your kids from a young age that sometimes people need a little extra help from time to time is a good place to start,” he says.
1. Charity party
“We also try and make a small donation to a charity at the kids’ birthday parties in lieu of bigger favors for attendees — which we find just get tossed anyway,” he says. “So kids get a couple of gumballs, a paper airplane and a note saying that, in their name, some money was given to a charity.”
Their most recent donation was to a charity providing year-round housing for foster youth at San Francisco State University.
Another method is, instead of receiving gifts at their birthday party, kids can ask their guests to bring new or used toys to donate to shelters or churches or for other donations that can help other kids. The nonprofit Milk + Bookies offers ideas on how to host parties for guests to donate books to needy kids.
Latasha Kennedy, a wife and mom of two boys, ages nine and three, in Brooklyn, N.Y., says her family throws a Christmas party every year for her oldest son’s school friends, who are asked to bring a small gift to donate to children at shelter for women and children.
They often receive a thank-you note from the shelter, and the family discusses how their son helped make a difference. “It’s very impactful, and we find that it helps our son gain perspective and a greater appreciation,” Kennedy says.
2. Volunteer at a food bank
Donating food and time at food banks is common around Thanksgiving and Christmas, but they need help the rest of the year also. Because food banks are nonprofits that rely on volunteers, many have family-friendly events that make it easy for children of all ages to attend.
The Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey has an area for teens and adults to sort food for its pantry and a separate area for younger children to color food bags or make cards for homebound seniors, says Lara Barrett, the group’s marketing director.
Be sure to check with your local food bank for requirements for young volunteers. The city of Alameda Food Bank’s warehouse may not be safe for children, so it requires that volunteers be at least 12 years old and that volunteers between ages 12 and 15 be accompanied by a parent or guardian.
3. Cheer up children in a hospital
If your child is up for cheering up children in a hospital, visit or call a local children’s hospital and ask what you can do, suggests Rachel Robertson, vice president of education and development at Bright Horizons Family Solutions. The organization offers tips for volunteering with kids and different ways to donate.
“You may want to suggest specific activities like hosting a holiday party, doing arts and craft projects for children in the hospital, painting the fingernails of all the girls, dressing like a clown and painting faces, or whatever your child thinks of,” Robertson says.
4. Start a helping jar
With coins found on the sidewalk, leftover lunch money or any spare change they have, kids can start a “helping jar” to save money in that they can donate throughout the year.
The money can either be donated directly to their favorite charity, or they can buy travel-size toiletries to give to shelters or homeless people.
5. Care for pets
Local animal shelters and pet adoption agencies often need help from volunteers. With the supervision of a parent, even toddler and preschoolers can play with kittens or dogs at an animal shelter and take them on walks.
Older kids can walk an elderly neighbor’s dog, or a family can take their pet to a nursing home to cheer up patients.
Whatever volunteer activities you pursue with your children, ensure that they’re grasping the life lessons inherent in the activities, says Wingate.
“Talk with your children about what lessons you perceived in the volunteerism,” she says. “Did you experience empathy? Gratitude for your many blessings? A desire to help others? Ask your children what lessons they perceived as well.
“Encourage your children to explore their thoughts and feelings and grow from each volunteerism activity. These life lessons will shape and sustain your children all of their lives.”
Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the Bay Area. He worked as an editor at the Contra Costa Times and now writes and edits as a freelancer about such topics as families and finances, retirement and other personal finance issues for websites. He also writes about family finances at his website, CashSmarter.com. Follow him on Twitter @AaronCrowe.