Teaching Kids to Give Back This Holiday Season

For so many parents, the holidays can be a stressful time of year… The doll your daughter wants is sold out on everywhere, your son is too cool to give you a list – you drive all over town searching for the perfect gifts, waiting in lines, checking Ebay, posting ISO ads in all of your online Swap groups. You stay up all night wrapping presents the best you can and cursing the toy companies for putting everything in asymmetrical and oddly-shaped boxes. Then Christmas morning comes, and it’s all worth it when you see the smiles on your perfect little angels’ faces. It’s easy to get wrapped up (pun intended) in all of the “stuff” as adults, and even easier for our kids… it’s no wonder so many of us forget what the spirit of the holiday season is all about.

I’ve been there, and when you’re a parent, you want to do/buy/find anything and everything to make your child as happy as possible on Christmas morning. Admittedly, I’ve gone overboard in the past, more than once. 

Maybe by now you’ve seen the post on social media – a photo of a handwritten tag from a “gift tree” that reads, “I am a 10-year-old boy. I want school snacks so I’m not the only one not eating during snack time at school. I wear a size 12 and I like Pokemon.” Go ahead and wipe your eyes, blow your nose, and collect all of the snacks for your cupboard so you can send them to that 1o-year-old boy. I’ll wait… I know I cried when I saw it. I felt so sad, so angry, and so guilty. I already have a stockpile of gifts for my kids, and this little boy just wants snacks.

I wondered how my daughter would feel reading that story. Could she even fathom that kind of need? Would she feel sad? Would she have questions about why Santa Claus isn’t bringing that 10-year-old boy as many toys as he is bringing her? I wasn’t sure how to teach Sophia about giving back without ruining the magic of Christmas. A quick search of the “standard” charities in our area informed me that my daughter was just too young to volunteer… I was about to give up, but then, I remembered a something my friend Sarah posted on Facebook last year. Every year, since her daughter was two years old, they have completed a series of random acts of kindness together. Naturally, I reached out to her, and with her permission, decided to share a short list of some of her favorite ways to give back during the holiday season.

  1. Leave a Treat for Your Delivery Driver or Mailman

This could include leaving water bottles and snacks out for the UPS and FedEx drivers who are working overtime during the holidays or leaving snacks in the mailbox as a surprise for your mailman.

  1. Show Your Support for Our Public Servants

Not everyone gets to spend the Holidays with their families. Firefighters, police officers, first responders have some of their busiest nights of the year around the holidays. Brighten their day by dropping off baked goods, chips and salsa, breakfast burritos, whatever!

  1. Leave a Surprise for a Stranger

Swing by the bank, take out a bunch of quarters, and head to your nearest laundromat. Leave the quarters on top of the machines – you’ll make a stranger’s day.

  1. Send Cards to Military Stationed Overseas or Contact Your Local Veterans Affairs Office

There are so many organizations that send cards to our men and women overseas. But these usually have to be done a month or two in advance. There is, however, still time to make some cards for the Veterans in our area! Spend an hour making holiday cards with your kids to show our troops and Veterans how much we appreciate them!

Sophia loves to draw, so this was easily her favorite activity!

  1. Donate Items to a Local Animal Shelter

That puppy under the Christmas tree is so cute and cuddly and tiny… but not for long. Immediately after the holidays, animal shelters often find themselves short on space and resources. This is when families surrender their “Christmas Gifts” after realizing how much work a puppy or kitten entails. Collect blankets, towels, dog and cat food, and toys and take it to your local animal shelter.

    6. Select a Child From an Angel Tree and Shop for Toys Together

This is better suited for older children that are ready to graduate from “believing in Santa” to “becoming Santa.” 

Admittedly, I was concerned that Sophia wouldn’t get it – that she’d complain or just go through the motions. But, what I realized is that there really is no joy like the joy of giving, and that starts at an early age. Since we started our random acts of kindness, she begs to do more, to give more, to help more. Whether this list speaks to you or not, the most important thing is that you find something to do with your child that you can both enjoy, that teaches them there is joy in giving, as well as receiving. Happy Holidays!

Candace is a former elementary school teacher and currently a full-time controller of chaos! A part time stay at home mom (if such a thing ever existed), she has two young children - a daughter, 7, and a son, 18 months. Candace loves writing, cooking, wine, cooking with wine, reading a good book, and spending time with her family. A Tampa native, born and raised on Davis Island, Candace currently lives in South Tampa with her husband, Matthew, and her two beautiful children.