It is so easy to get caught up in the tumult of the holidays. We schlep and shop, cook and feed but often overlook the real meaning of giving thanks. It is important to take pause and recognize all your family has rather than what it wants or needs. It is also a wonderful time to teach children what it means to give back.
There are many terrific organizations right here on Long Island that sponsor volunteer activities for children and families throughout the holiday season, including UJA Federation, Meals on Wheels, The Inn Soup Kitchen and Long Island Cares Food Pantry, just to name a few.
Children of all ages should be encouraged to participate. The key is finding common areas of interest for the children and the family and setting age-appropriate guidelines that will enhance the experience. Here are some suggestions:
Children Ages 4-7
Children this age appreciate being involved in any family activity and their enthusiasm can be contagious. Let them help purchase canned items at the grocery store for a food pantry, color holiday cards for veterans or help bake cookies for a homeless shelter. All of these tasks can be done with a parent, grandparent or caretaker right by their side explaining why it is important to help and care for others.
Children Ages 8-12
By this age, children are more aware of the differences in the way people live. They have a basic understanding of poverty and homelessness. They are at an age where they can be encouraged to help others in a more active way. Maybe once a year the whole family can go through their warm clothing and pick coats and hats to donate. Many families designate one personal holiday gift as a donation gift. Some deliver a home-cooked meal to a family less fortunate. Others participate in a local clean-up project or attend a sing-a-long at a nursing home through their church or synagogue. All of these activities allow children to be exposed to those in need in a safe and structured way, strengthening their sense of empathy.
Children Ages 13 and up
If you have never exposed your child to a community project, start off slowly and do something fun, like a walk-a-thon or a bake sale to raise money for a worthy organization. Find a food pantry in your area and then shop and stock the shelves yourselves. If they have had some experience, join a group that is painting a recreation center. If your children like animals, encourage them to volunteer a few hours at an animal rescue and adoption center. Many organizations have opportunities for junior volunteers for community service credit.
Overall, it is true that it is better to give than receive, but it is your job to instill these values in your children in a safe, progressive and meaningful way.
Wishing you all a Happy and Healthy Holiday and New Year!