The days leading up to Christmas are rife with checklists, wish lists, to-do lists, and somewhere in the commercialistic background of gift-giving there echoes the message that Christmas is more about giving than receiving. While singing Christmas carols at the senior center or volunteering at the food bank for the holidays are certainly worthwhile endeavors, what about the rest of the year?
Now that the presents are all opened, the mountains of wrapping paper thrown in the trash, and the piles of dishes from Christmas dinner put away, it’s time to look ahead to a New Year. It’s wonderful that the premise of Christmas-time is self-sacrifice, whether you are one of the faithful or not, but shouldn’t we strive to develop a mindset of contribution more often than just during the holiday season? As parents it is especially important to instill character building practices to teach your children empathy, compassion, and to foster a desire for contribution and philanthropy!
These 5 simple tips, if practiced on a more consistent basis, rather than once a year (such as once a week, month, every other month or even every few months,) will help to inspire your children to have a giving mindset all year long. (And hopefully, for the rest of their lives!)
Committing your time and energy as a regular volunteer with a local organization you are passionate about will teach your kids that contributing to society is not something that should happen only around the holidays. Include your children in the process and make it a regular family event! Consider signing up as a regular volunteer at a local food bank, a battered women’s home, an animal rescue center, or a homeless shelter. It doesn’t have to be every week, but even once a month (say the 1st or last day of the month) have it penciled in to take your children with you to volunteer, and you will engrain this practice in their being for the rest of their lives!
2.) Donate Dated or Outworn Clothing & Household Items:
Right after Christmas is the perfect time to take inventory of what you have and what you don’t need. Go through your closets (both yours and your kids’) and sort through what you no longer need or want. Rummage through old clothes, toys, kitchen items, or any other gadgets you have lying around the house that are taking up space. Have your kids participate in the process by having them go through their own clothes and toys (if they are old enough to do so) and find items they have outgrown or no longer want. Ask them what they would like to donate to another child in need. Then bring these items to a local outreach program, such as Good Will, or a crisis pregnancy center (if you have any baby items and clothes,) like Care Net, or even your local Church if they accept such items. Maybe you also know of someone personally who might be in need of some extra toys or clothes! This is something that can be done every few months, especially during the change of seasons. Getting your kids in the practice of evaluating ‘excess’ will help teach them gratitude as well as empathy for those who are less fortunate.
3.) Check In With An Elderly Neighbor:
If you have any elderly or retired neighbors, it can really make their day when you go out of your way to interact with them regularly. Often times seniors have family that are long distance, and being far away from grandchildren can make daily life a little lonely. Make it a habit to introduce your family (if you haven’t already), and stop by once a week with your kids to see how they are doing, ask if they need a ride to the grocery store (if they are unable to go themselves), or if they would simply like a visitor. Your kids may be reluctant to share their time with your elderly neighbors at first, but after some time your kids will grow to enjoy hearing their interesting stories as well as develop an appreciation for life at all ages and stages.
4.) Make a batch of cookies:
Spend an hour or two on a Saturday afternoon once a month baking cookies or brownies with your kids, then bring them to your local fire station or police station, just because! These heroes put their lives on the line for us on a daily basis, and a batch of freshly baked cookies might just brighten their whole week! (You don’t have to bake them from scratch either!) This practice will instill in your children a deeper appreciation for the kind of security we often times take for granted; it might even inspire one of your kids to pursue a career serving our country!
5.) When You See Someone On The Street Begging For Money, Give Them A Dollar — Or Twenty.
I’ve often heard people remark that they don’t give money to strangers on the street who are begging for it because they are probably drug addicts and will just go and spend it on cigarettes or booz. I’ve come to the conclusion that nobody knows anyone else’s story; nor do we know what’s in their heart. Maybe that person was just fired from their job and is in a financial crisis, maybe it is a Veteran who slipped through the cracks of the system, or maybe he or she is just a really lost person. Regardless, you don’t know what a person is going to do with your $5 yes, but does it really matter? (If it really bothers you that much, go get a couple $5 gift cards to McDonalds and keep them in your purse or wallet for the next time you see a person holding a sign that says they are hungry.) By giving a person in need a few dollars (even if you really don’t have much to spare) will teach your kids that even if life feels bleak, there’s always someone else who has it worse. Some series of unfortunate events undoubtedly occurred for that person to end up on a busy Wal-Mart sidewalk with a cardboard sign and a Sharpie, but maybe all he or she needs is one act of kindness to reignite a lost belief in humanity.
Originally published at medium.com