It is amazing how the focus of holidays change once you become a parent. I find myself thinking about lessons that can be taught, qualities that can be encouraged and morals and values that can be demonstrated rather than presents and lights. Here are eight activities to do with your children that make a difference for others, instill valuable lessons about life, or both.
1. Adopt a Family Meal
Many of us know families that have been affected by the economy and are struggling to make this Christmas special. If you personally know a family that could benefit from a holiday meal, choose them as your adopted family this year. Include your kids in deciding what they would like to add to the meal bag, and have them pick items at the grocery store with you. This teaches generosity and selflessness, plus an economic lesson in cost and goods purchased. If your kids have their own money from allowance or savings, ask what they would like to contribute to the meal with their own money. (One child might want to buy the box of stuffing, one might want to buy an apple pie). If you don’t personally know of a family that could use a meal, many churches and grocery stores partner with agencies that serve needy families and can provide a family for you to adopt.
2. Go Caroling to Elderly Neighbors
There is something very special about hearing carolers show up outside your door when it is unexpected. Especially when you may not have anyone to celebrate with you when you are older and living alone. Select three or four homes that you will visit on your caroling route as a family, and pick songs that are easy to recognize and sing along with. Music is one of the most prominent memories that we maintain, even in later life, and takes us to special places in the past. This act teaches consideration of others’ needs and helps children recognize easy ways to bring joy to others.
3. Take Handmade Gifts to Nursing Homes or Hospitals
Almost all of us live within driving distance to a hospital or assisted living facility. Many of these residents will be alone and without visitors during the busy season. Your kids can make simple and easy crafts or cards and take them as gifts. (Dipping pine cones in glue and rolling them in glitter makes really easy and quick ornaments that can be hung anywhere to spread cheer!) This teaches gratitude for health and family, as well as helping children understand the significance of giving to others without expecting anything in return.
4. Babysit for a Single Parent
It is difficult to manage the stress and busyness of the holiday season with support and help from family members. it can be overwhelming for a single parent working full-time to shop for gifts without their kids and prepare for Christmas morning. Offer to host a kids’ play date for your kids and a few other children to allow a few hours for a single parent to get some errands out of the way or presents wrapped. Not only do your kids get to spend some time with friends, they learn to be aware of offering your home and friendship to others who need a helping hand.
5. Donate Toys to Needy Children
We all know about the Operation Toy Drive and Toys for Tots programs available. Apart from buying a specific present for one child (which is certainly another option to teach positive lessons to your kids), another idea is to sit down with your kids and have them choose toys that they are willing to donate to homeless shelters or residential children’s homes to make room for toys they will receive for Christmas gifts. This keeps rooms and play areas a little cleaner and less cluttered, but more importantly, helps kids understand the idea of surplus and need.
6. Deliver Animal Treats or Toys for Shelters
There are very easy recipes for dog and cat treats on the internet that can be made in your own kitchen with the help of your children. Another option is to allot a certain amount of money to purchase toys at a store for the animals in shelters. (Dollar stores typically have a selection of toys and treats in a pet section). Children who grow up with pets understand the emotional and familial bond that takes place between humans and animals, and this serves as a good object lesson for making sure you take responsibility and commitment to pet ownership seriously. Kids that are not used to pets can witness the giving and loving volunteers who provide care for animals without homes.
7. Host an Appreciation Event
There are so many people throughout the year who invest in our lives and make a difference in our families. Teachers, pastors, friends, neighbors, coaches, community leaders, and family are all individuals who deserve to be recognized for their influence and contribution in your lives. It can be as simple as drinks and appetizers or as elaborate as a catered meal, but your kids can be involved in helping create the guest list and discussing why they want to honor them. This demonstrates appreciation for people who care about you and your family and helps children learn the value of expressing gratitude.
8. Create a Yearly Review Journal
Begin a new tradition of spending some time Christmas Eve reminiscing and recording good things that happened in the past year, with every member contributing things that they recall with fond memories. This will not only keep things in perspective as you enjoy telling stories as a family, but will allow you to reflect back each year over all of the previous entries made. A way to extend this past just your family is to create thank you notes to anyone outside of your family that played a part in making those memories special. (Dear Grandma, Thanks for taking us to the zoo this year! Love, Joey and Jess). This reinforces the idea of being thankful, and helps kids to focus on what is important.
With 16 days left until Christmas, you can do each one of these every other day to purposefully and intentionally create special and meaningful memories for you and your children. The holiday season becomes stressful and hectic when we let our focus shift to things that aren’t as important as what really matters – spending time with special people, making special memories and instilling special lessons in kids that will last longer than the toys that they open on Christmas morning.