At this time of year, kids are busy making lists of all the toys they want for holiday gifts. But how about making a list of things they can give to others? While showing charity and generosity to others is something children—and their parents—can do year round, the holiday season offers many opportunities for kids to see it is better to give than to receive.
“Studies have shown that generosity towards others has health benefits, such as increasing happiness by triggering the pleasure centers of the brain, lowering stress, and lengthening life span,” says Sandra Mathur, DO, a pediatrician at St. Jude Heritage Medical Group in Diamond Bar. “Children can reap those benefits, as well as learn the importance of empathy, sharing and showing grace to others by freely giving of themselves without expecting anything in return.”
Dr. Mathur offers some ideas on how your children can help others this holiday season. “Whatever you and your child decide to do, make sure it’s a team effort. You are your child’s main role model, and if she sees you giving your time or money, she’s more apt to do it, too. Odds are, you’ll have such a great time that you’ll want to find more volunteer opportunities throughout the rest of the year.”
Help feed the hungry. Soup kitchens, homeless shelters, community food banks and other organizations that give food to the needy are always looking for donations. Go shopping with your child expressly to pick out food donations and let her select the items from the organization’s wish list. Let her box up the food and deliver it with you. Older kids and their families may also want to consider serving a meal at a facility for the homeless, which allows kids a more personal connection to the people they are helping.
Play Santa. A popular holiday initiative for charities and churches allows you to fulfill a family’s wish list for the holidays. Volunteers get a list of a family’s members, their ages and genders, and their gift preferences, and then they go shopping. “This can be a fun activity for kids, especially if the family you are shopping for has a child close to their age. They can be more invested in picking out the right gifts,” Dr. Mathur says.
Share their toys. Savvy parents know that the pre-holiday period is ideal for cleaning out old toys and books in preparation for the new gifts that will be coming. Find a list of organizations that accept used toy, book and clothing donations, and let your child pick one. “Make sure your child selects used toys that are still in good condition and aren’t missing key parts,” Dr. Mathur says.
Go for a drive. With the season’s colder weather, socks, blankets, scarves and jackets are always welcome at nonprofits that help the homeless and those in need. “You can help your child organize a drive to collect those items at school, church or in your neighborhood,” Dr. Mathur says.
Bake someone happy. Who doesn’t love a batch of homemade treats at the holidays? “Making cookies for local police or firefighters, for instance, teaches your child to show appreciation, while you get to spend some fun family time together baking,” Dr. Mathur says.
Make it personal. Find a way to tie in your child’s interests to a service project. “If your child loves animals, talk to her about collecting items for the local animal shelter, or encourage her to save a portion of her allowance that she can donate,” Dr. Mathur says. “It will make the experience that much more powerful,” Dr. Mathur says.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.