Raising Kids Who Care: Giving at the Holidays and for Life

by Leticia Barr- December 17, 2014 • 12:10 pm

As soon as my kids were born, I wondered all the time how what we said and did would affect their own values, down the road. As parents, we always hope our children’s minds truly are little sponges, that they’ll become adults who remember and repeat not only our words, but how we behave and what we do as a family.

But one of the most delightful surprises of the last year, now that my son is 8 and my daughter nearly 11, is that it turns out we didn’t have to wait until they were grown to see the effects. Inspired by her love for her friend who suffers from the disease, our daughter, Emily, decided to raise funds for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

In 2013, Emily began making and selling ribbon barrettes, raising $142 to donate toward efforts to find a cure for this genetic disorder that cuts many young lives short. And the minute school let out this summer, she vowed to beat last year’s total. In the past five months alone, she’s done that—times nearly 20! So far in 2014, Emily’s raised just over $2,000 for the Foundation and is furiously filling holiday orders coming in through her new website, a terrific example of how digital connection can actually be a good thing for kids! She’s also become a spokesperson, educating others about cystic fibrosis, and an inspiration for other kids her age who are also passionate about causes.

So how did we raise kids who care so deeply? Good news: it’s not magic! We started small. And you can, too.

From the time they were young, we talked with our kids about what we can do to help others, did simple things to show we cared and involved them in the process. And not every effort involved spending money. Often, we spent our time: leaving flowers from our garden in a vase for a neighbor to find upon returning home from work, taking an extra serving of our dinner to a sick friend, letting the person with just a few items behind us in the grocery line go first. I now know these small acts were not small—they were inspiring.

The holidays can be a wonderful reminder of the importance of giving, and every child, no matter how young, can be changed by witnessing and being part of everyday gifts. Here’s a developmentally appropriate approach to the topics that resonate with kids of all ages and ideas for how they can contribute to the spirit of giving, all year long.

Toddlers and Preschoolers

While current events are over the heads of 2-4-year-olds, they understand what it means to be kind. And since social skills are a big part of most preschool lessons, the concept will not be new to most of them. Being kind begins with family and extends to friends, neighbors, even beloved pets. Don’t be fooled by age-typical ego-centric behavior—there’s room for both.

  • Share holiday cookies. If you bake together, talk together about who in your neighborhood might enjoy a plate of cookies or bread. Even kids as young as 2 can—and will love to help!—choose festive plates, lay them out and portion out cookies. Then comes the best part: delivering!
  • Donate to an animal shelter. Kids this age, especially if they have pets, can understand that not every pet is as lucky as theirs. Look at a website to see photos of animals who haven’t yet found their “forever family.” When buying toys or food for your own furry friend, have your child choose extra items, set them aside so they understand these will not go to your pet, then drop them off together at your local site.

Elementary-school-aged Children

Kids from Kindergarten to 5th grade are better able to understand the concept of giving to strangers than can toddlers and preschoolers. And most kids this age have already encountered causes through school, such as UNICEF at Halloween or donating to people who are homeless, through Girl Scout or Cub Scout programs.

  • Donate outgrown clothes and toys. Put a basket in your child’s closet and encourage them to fill it with clothes that don’t fit. Once the basket’s full, empty it into a bag and ask them to fill it again, with toys and games that are collecting dust. Choose a charitable organization together, then take them to drop off their donation. Kids this age can understand that by giving things that your family spent money on, you’re helping a family who doesn’t have enough money to buy their kids what they need.
  • Get a shot, give a shot through Shot@Life. Every elementary student knows what it feels like to get a shot at the doctor’s office. It’s not fun, but it’s much better than getting sick. Older students, from 3rd to 5th grade, can understand how vaccines work and that many kids in developing countries who don’t get shots can die from what for us are normal childhood illnesses like pneumonia or diarrhea. By getting family flu shots at Walgreens, you can help provide lifesaving vaccines through their Get a Shot. Give a Shot. campaign.

What’s meaningful for teens?

Social-media-loving teens with their own mobile devices can do more with those phones than text and play Candy Crush. They can understand the far-ranging impact of viral campaigns, many on platforms they already use.

  • Text change with ONE.org. Most teens have probably heard about Ebola, but they may not know that ONE.org has created a way for their voice to help. In addition to signing a petition urging world leaders to provide funding to stop Ebola’s spread, teens can check a box to join ONE’s Mobile Action Team and receive texts with each new call to action. Sometimes it’ll be a petition link, or a number to call to urge President Obama to do more. ONE.org’s cool factor, that we parents can appreciate? U2’s Bono co-founded it. ONE.org has members in 187 countries and from all walks of life and focuses on ending extreme poverty and preventable disease in Africa.
  • Donate an Instagram photo to charity and give $1. Android and iPhone users can install the free Donate a Photo app to give $1 to a cause they care about for every photo shared. Who knew Instagram photos could help fix a public park, provide medicine for a baby or help kids play sports safely? If teens and their friends each donate a photo a day for a week? Well, do the math. Astounding!

These are just a few ways to start conversations with kids at every stage about how vital it is to build a culture of generosity, not just for the holidays, but for every day, their whole lives long. And it’s never too early to learn that each small act creates a ripple, the ultimate effects of which can be greater than kids could ever imagine.

What about you? How do you practice giving, and how do you inspire and help your children to do the same?


Photo: Purple Sherbet Photography

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