Teach them well
Make this season about giving
Of course kids love getting presents at the holidays, but what truly makes the season special is the genuine sense of goodwill all around them. That’s why now is the best time to show a child how to spread that warmth by helping others
Courage to initiate change
When a child improves someone else’s life, he sees that he can change the world around him — and even himself — for the better, says Cathryn Berger Kaye, author of The Complete Guide to Service Learning. For 6-year-old Cleo Payne of Pelham, NY, volunteering at her local park has shown her the big impact of a small gesture. “A park is nice and relaxing, but if it’s all messed up, no one wants to come there,” she says. “I like burying the bulbs so there can be flowers again.”
Compassion for all beings
Helping people in need lets kids flex their caring instincts. Same goes for working with animals. “The kindness, understanding, and patience that kids learn in caring for pets segues to gentleness with peers,” says Charlotte LeFrank, programme coordinator at the Child Abuse Prevention Council in Windsor, Ontario.
Danny Gottfried, 12, of North Andover, MA, recently spread the kindness message at his “ASPCA birthday party” by asking friends to bring toys for the animals at a local shelter rather than gifts for him. “The animals were so bored, and I have a whole room of things to play with,” says Danny, who has two cats adopted from his local ASPCA.
Enthusiasm for teamwork
Working with others toward a common goal shows kids that sharing responsibility can have a bigger impact than going it alone. Take 7-year-old Natalie Antupit of Seattle. To aid tsunami victims, she spearheaded a fund-raising bake sale at her school. “I liked working with my friends, and it was easier with people helping,” she says. “It made me feel really good to help people I didn’t know.”
Volunteering is a win-win experience for kids: Every little bit they do helps, and that, in turn, is a great self-esteem booster. “Realising they did something to make someone else smile is priceless,” says Spaide. “You can’t match that feeling.”
It’s never too early to expose your child to philanthropic activities, says Kathy Saulitis, director of youth and family outreach at the Points of Light Foundation & Volunteer Center National Network, a group that promotes volunteering. To motivate children to give back, follow these expert tips.
Teach your toddler about generosity by encouraging her to share her toys, rewarding her for helping around the house, or showing her how to give a loving hug to someone who is crying or hurt.
When your child does something nice for someone, compliment him. Say, “Thank you for helping Mommy pick up those clothes” or “It’s so nice of you to share your book with Timmy.”
Set an example
Let your kids see you doing generous acts — even helping an elderly person grab something from a high grocery shelf will make an impression. “If parents do it, children will do it,” says Saulitis.
Talk about reaching out
Slip a newspaper article about a family in need under your child’s plate and discuss it over dinner or direct her attention to causes that spring from the news. “We have talked a lot as a family about Hurricane Katrina — imagining what it would be like to lose your home, school, even friends,” says Kelly Collison, 46, of Cincinnati.“As a result, my 10-year-old son, Quinn, started selling milk shakes and lemonade door-to-door to raise money for the Red Cross.”
Get their input
By asking your child for her ideas (e.g., “Our neighbour, Mr. Andrews, is sick. What should we do?”), you’re saying that her opinions count. “This makes a kid feel valued, which empowers and motivates her,” says Saulitis.
Remember the end goal
Showing kids the full circle of their volunteer work makes them want to do more. After your child has collected canned food for the homeless, take her with you to drop it off at the shelter or church so she can see firsthand the results of her work.
Appeal to their interests
Encourage your child to choose an activity that he’s passionate about. “Kids love to show what they’re good at,” explains Saulitis. “And the more you draw on their abilities, the more motivated they become.”
Children who love animals can...
• Bake dog biscuits or cat treats and deliver them to a local animal shelter. Or visit the animals to give them much-needed love.
• Walk or bathe the pet of an elderly or sick neighbour.
• Choose a cow or another animal to buy for a family in a developing country through Heifer International (heifer.org).
Children who love being around younger kids can...
• Teach a young neighbour to ride a bike, tie his shoelaces, or tell time.
• Collect money from family members and take a deserving child to lunch and a holiday play. (Ask your local church for suggestions for whom to take.)
• Tutor younger kids after school.
Children who love nature can...
• Organise a litter patrol for the schoolyard or neighbourhoods playground.
• Help plant flowers at a local park.
• Cut and arrange fresh flowers and deliver them to patients at a local hospital.
Children who love the arts can...
• Make holiday greeting cards and give them to the elderly at a senior centre.
• Offer to do gift-wrapping for an elderly neighbour or an overstressed new mom.
• Help paint a hospital, shelter, or community-centre mural. (Go to artistshelpingchildren.org for local projects.)
Children who love to read can...
• Lead story times at libraries and shelters.
• Collect books and magazines from neighbours and deliver them to shelters, day-care centres, and hospitals.
• Read to elderly nursing-home residents who have vision problems.
Children who love interacting with people can...
• Visit a convalescent home and take wheelchair-bound patients for walks.
• Go to a homeless shelter and play with the kids who live there.
• Put together simple bag lunches and distribute them to the homeless.
• Organise a canned-food drive at school and prepare and serve the food to the homeless at a local church or shelter.