As the holiday season is quickly approaching, I’m looking for a more personal, hands-on way to demonstrate and explain charity to my children rather than just purchasing an item and dropping it in a box or donating money. Kids don’t understand that the donated money will buy milk, bread or other essentials. At the ages of 4 and 7, it’s very difficult for kids to grasp such an abstract concept such as donating to a worthy cause. Most children don’t realize some of their peers aren’t as fortunate to be raised as they are and that many adults don’t have the necessities of life as they should.
So how does a parent with young children safely show their kids that not everyone has a warm cozy bed to sleep in or the luxury of having a hot, healthy dinner with their family every night?
Since my kids were born, we’ve always tried to instill that we are all part of a larger community and to show empathy and generosity to others. As a parent I’m guilty of purchasing a toy or a cute super hero shirt because I know it would bring joy to my child. I don’t do it frequently, but am I spoiling them? Am I creating a sense of entitlement? Although my kids are appreciative and say, “thank you,” how can I give them a greater understanding that not everyone lives as they do?
Each year, aside from all the fundraisers and food drives, my children select an angel from a tree at church with their grandmother or their “Nonna” as we affectionately like to call her. They enjoy shopping for their angels and try to purchase a few things on their wish list, and then enjoy wrapping the gifts together. Then, on a Sunday morning in December, off to church they go and they carry the presents down the aisle and place them on the altar. If only they could experience the joy of giving by watching their angels excitement on Christmas morning as they open their gifts, do I believe they would have a true understanding of helping others and find ways to give on their own.
The benefits of actively fostering children’s charitable impulses are enormous. It gives kids a powerful boost in self-esteem to realize they can make a difference in someone’s life. There are several great ways a child can learn the value of giving. Encourage them to donate old toys, school supplies and clothing they have outgrown to other children by allowing them to bring them to a donation center. They can also set up a charity box in the home where they can donate part of their allowance. When the box is full, they can go with you and donate the funds to a charity of their choice.
In our area, I know of a few great places that are always looking for volunteers, big or small. Meals on Wheels delivers hot lunch to home-bound clients in Alachua County. Not only are you delivering a healthy meal, you’re offering personal contact to an elderly citizen that may not have many visitors. Many love to hear the giggles of a small child, so bring them along and let them help deliver a meal and a smile.
Another great charity is the Ronald McDonald House. They provide 31 families each night with a private room and all the comforts of home including a cup of coffee, a quiet room for a nap, computer access and other amenities. It helps families and guests find balance between home, work and hospital while remaining close at hand for their child. This house allows families to find strength in numbers and focus on the treatment and recovery of their children.
Families are encouraged to contribute $15 per night at the House, but no one is ever turned away due to an inability to give. Because services cost $100 per night to provide, the community and corporate partners make it possible to serve families at their greatest time of need. So, bring a few supplies and have your family help cook a meal for those that have a sick little one.
The last couple of years I’ve been looking for additional locations to bring my children to volunteer. Are you aware of any that welcome little helpers? Selflessness is one of the most important lessons we can teach our little ones. Please share all of your ideas as I would love to write a follow-up blog.