Some of my favorite childhood memories involve my mom and her superpower of helping others. I remember her taking me to hand out cookies at a local shelter when I was 7, buying gifts for a classmate and doing a ring-and-run when I was 12, and watching her spend hours sewing custom bandage covers for one of her hospice patients when I was a teen. She has a genuine outward focus for people in painful places, and she invited me into the joy of helping, even in the smallest of ways. It has stayed with me for a lifetime, and it’s a gift I strive to give to my children, as well.
As we enter our next round of holidays, we have a beautiful opportunity to cultivate gratitude and generosity in the hearts of our kids. We can show them how to fully embrace the seasonal warmth, beauty, and anticipation we feel within our families, while also gently shifting their gaze to those outside the walls of our homes. Here are a few ways we’ve been doing that in our home and I invite you to join in!
One thing my kids love doing is transforming gallon Ziplock bags into Love Bags. These are special care packages we make for the people we see holding signs at on ramps and traffic lights. We go to Costco, check out Dollar Tree, and scan Amazon, deciding what someone might need if they didn’t always have a home to sleep in. Watching the kids ponder this and get excited about purchases is priceless! The conversations that follow shape our family.
Our bags usually include:
- bottled water
- wet wipes
- protein bars
- tube socks
- thermal foil blanket
- some form of encouragement like a drawing, inspirational card, or a list of local resources.
We keep a few bags in the car, ready for whoever we meet in our day. The kids usually see people before I do and have a sense of joy as they point me in their direction. Afterward we talk often about gratitude, opportunities, choices, kindness, and hope.
Cards for the Elderly
We all know how lonely the holidays can be when we’re not able to be with the ones we love. Quarantine gave us all a sampling of the isolation that many elderly people feel every year. Something as small as a card lets them know that they are thought of amidst the seasonal bustle.
Grab a pack of cards from the Dollar Tree, write a simple note of holiday wishes, and hand your child of any age a crayon or marker to use at will. Do you have an aging neighbor? Is there a nursing home in your area? What about dropping cards at Meals On Wheels to brighten up deliveries? This small gesture can mean so much! And wonderful conversations with our kids branch out about noticing and including lonely people at playgrounds, classes, and more.
Clean Out and Shop
It’s important to us that our kids are willing to share what they have and know the joy of shopping for others besides themselves. In our house that looks like going through toys and clothes and donating items to our favorite local store, Sam’s Attic. The proceeds of the sales go to support a school in Uganda and my kids love knowing that their things are helping other kids just like them! It also looks like choosing a child’s name off of our church’s Angel Tree and shopping together for Christmas presents for a child with an incarcerated parent.
There are so many other great options to consider, as well! Some ideas include contacting a local animal shelter to see what items they need, filling a Welcome Box for children waiting at a DHS Child Welfare Office (everychildpdx.com), or maybe doing a ring-and-run of groceries for a neighbor in need. Ask your child what they think would be a good way to give and empower them to do it!
Creating A Family Culture
Whatever you do as a family this holiday season, embrace the joy of it, model the love of giving and give your child ownership in the process. Talk about how it makes them feel and why. Take turns expressing what you’re grateful for after a meaningful act of service. Creating this yearly rhythm of generosity will bond your family in shared experiences and develop your child’s affection for their community. And maybe they’ll continue the legacy with their own children… and even write about it.