Nov 23
These kids packed shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child!

Giving makes you happier! These kids packed shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child.

The holiday season is upon us. What does that mean to your kids? Is it time for them to gather with family? Celebrate their faith? Give to those less fortunate?

Or, is it time to sit down with a stack of catalogs and create a multi-page, color-coded and tabbed index of everything in the world they want from Santa?

If it’s the latter, don’t feel bad. Many of us think our families could do better in the “spirit of the season” department. It seems that as soon as Halloween ends, an onslaught of toy commercials hypnotizes our kids and turns them into “gimme monsters.” It’s not cute, and it’s not what we want for our families. But do not fear: There are many ways to put a giving spirit back in kids’ hearts during holiday time.

Reasons to Give

Why might families want to increase their focus on giving during the holiday season? Perhaps your faith calls you to be generous. Or, maybe you’re just tired of your kids asking for things when they clearly have enough toys, electronics and sports equipment to fill a warehouse. These reasons are motivation enough, but here are a few more:

The need is so great. In case you missed it, this has been a rough year around the world. The Ebola outbreak in West Africa and conflicts in Iraq, Syria, and Sudan have upped the demand for humanitarian aid significantly. As a result, global humanitarian organizations are stretched to their limits. Yet, a poll of 2,000 Americans conducted by World Vision shows that most (80%) have no plans to increase their holiday charitable giving this year. I’m not sure why that is—lack of awareness, inability to afford giving, or simply thinking someone else will do it—but we can do better, folks.

Giving makes you happier. It’s a scientific fact! This study shows that giving actually increases happiness in kids.  Why not capitalize on kids’ natural altruistic tendencies and bring some feel-good to your family? You’ll find that it is truly more blessed to give than to receive.

It’s a tax deduction. As the end of the year approaches, it’s nice to know you can significantly lower your tax bill just by giving money (or goods) to a qualified charitable organization. Just make sure you know the rules and document your giving.

How to Get Started

Now that we’ve covered the whys, let’s get into the hows: How do you make giving a priority this holiday season?

Start with a give list: First of all, I love the suggestion in this article on making a family “give list.” Sit down and brainstorm with your kids about how you are going to give this year. This sets the tone for a season of giving, and helps them understand it’s not all about getting.

Let the investment be theirs: Let kids pick out toys for a toy drive, pack a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child, or donate their allowance to the charity of their choice. These actions may seem small, but they get kids invested in the process of giving. And, they can actually have a greater impact than you might think. Check out this list of charities where small donations accomplish big things.

Build giving into holiday parties. Every holiday gathering is a potential opportunity to gather canned goods for a food pantry, pet products for the local animal shelter, or socks or mittens for a homeless shelter. Ask your guests to bring one item, and put the kids in charge of collecting them. You’ll be surprised how quickly the donations pile up.

Donate your time. Kids like action, and nothing gets them into the holiday spirit faster than getting out of the house and serving others. Packing meals at Feed My Starving Children has become a favorite holiday tradition for my family, and this year we are volunteering for World Vision at an event over the holidays as well. Volunteer opportunities abound at this time of year. You may need to look no further than your church or community organization for ways to pitch in; but if you need some ideas, check out Volunteer Match, which will instantly call up volunteer opportunities near you.

Sponsor a child. Want to encourage generosity in a meaningful way all year round? Consider sponsoring a child in a country affected by war, natural disaster, disease, or poverty. My family has been sponsoring two children (in Bolivia and Colombia) through World Vision for almost two years now. We selected children that share my kids’ birth dates, and we correspond with our sponsored children regularly. The photos and drawings we receive from our sponsored children provide an amazing window into the disparity between my kids’ lifestyle and the lives of children around the world. I am a huge fan of World Vision because they address the root causes of poverty and work with impoverished communities to achieve sustainable change. That said, several organizations offer child sponsorship opportunities; to find them, search “sponsor a child” and use Charity Navigator to check out the organization you choose before giving.

Check Out #GivingTuesday

If you’re looking for a starting point for your giving efforts, #GivingTuesday might be a great opportunity to kick off your own giving tradition. The holiday consumer calendar in the U.S. starts off with Black Friday, (which is creeping into Thanksgiving in many places). Black Friday is followed by Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday, the day set aside to shop for online bargains. These “shopping holidays” set a consumerist tone that affects kids’ attitudes (especially for teens, whose excitement about Black Friday is influenced by the social media). But in 2012, the United Nations Foundation and the New York 92nd Street Y introduced #GivingTuesday, which is billed as “Opening Day for the Giving Season.” A welcome antidote to the consumerism of Black Friday, #GivingTuesday saw participation from more than 2,500 charities and volunteer organizations in 2013. As a result, charitable giving as a whole was up 113% over the same day the previous year. This is good stuff! Setting aside a date for giving is a valuable and long-overdue concept, and a help to families trying to make their values heard over popular culture. Want more help? #GivingTuesday offers this list of suggestions to help families get their giving in gear (they are even offering a webinar on November 24, 2014 specifically for families to get ideas about giving.)

Enjoy the Rewards

Start making some fun, giving-focused activities a priority in your holiday routines, and you will see results over time. Recently, I overheard my youngest child mention “spending time with family” and “doing charity stuff” as the things she likes best about the holiday season. This, in a kid who used to spend days marking up catalogs for her Christmas list. Hallelujah! This is why we do what we do, parents! Changing your kids’ holiday  “gimmes” into “give yous” can be a challenge, but stick with it, and remember that your example and involvement are key.  As the saying goes: Children will soon forget your presents, but they will always remember your presence.

How have you gotten your kids into giving? Which charities or organizations will benefit from your holiday generosity? Please SHARE in the comments!

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