Inside: Spread kindness as a family through this Family Volunteer Challenge for December by focusing on giving rather than getting Christmas gifts.
A few years ago, I was shopping with my kids at the mall during December. We were holiday shopping for family and putting things on their wish list for them.
The Christmas carols were playing, decorations were everywhere, Santa was there, and everyone seemed to be in the buying spirit.
For my kids, that meant they were in the getting spirit. They couldn’t wait to open all their gifts.
But then we saw a special Christmas Tree, covered in paper angels. As we got closer, we realized there were names and ages on each ornament. We had stumbled across an Angel Tree where kids who weren’t going to get many gifts had written down their wish list in hopes someone would choose their angel and purchase gifts for them.
And so I grabbed a few angels off that tree for kids who were the same age as my kids. I explained to them what the angel trees represented and then we went shopping. My kids picked out toys and clothes off the angel ornament wish lists for other kids.
And not another word was mentioned about their own wish lists. They were focused on giving, rather than getting.
Which is crucial.
So we also do this sibling giving tradition to help focus on giving rather than getting during December and we countdown to Christmas with this Kindness Advent Calendar so we focus on others daily.
So now we do this December volunteer challenge every year and search for these angel trees, or Toys for Tots bins, or programs that let us “sponsor” a child during the holidays so we can focus on giving rather than getting.
Why it’s Important to Volunteer with our Kids:
We are raising kind kids. We expect it, we praise it, and we model it.
Related: How to Raise Kinder Kids
And we tend to focus on the quiet, normal, everyday moments of kindness.
Holding the door for the person behind you.
Picking up something someone dropped.
Offering your seat to someone who needs it.
But there’s also bigger, grander, more time-consuming acts of kindness that falls more into the volunteering category of kindness:
Times when we donate to our local food bank.
Or collect all our old jackets and take them to a shelter that needs them.
Or when we take a taco to someone who’s really hungry.
Our kindness may not change the world. But it can change the world for the people we help.
And it instills in my children the fact that volunteering and acts of service are a normal part of lives.
Helping others doesn’t need to be a once a year activity during December when we donate a toy or two.
People are hungry year round.
Animal shelters are full year round.
Kids are sick year round.
And we can help. Because we are helpers. We are raising our kids to be helpers.
As an added bonus (as if we needed one more reason) volunteering as a family is an incredible way to connect as a family and build a strong family identity.
So teaching our kids to give to others who are less fortunate than ourselves is a true gift.
And volunteering is one of the easiest ways to help kids practice being compassionate. Compassion is feeling others’ pain or hardship or suffering and then being prompted to take action to relieve that suffering.
Many families want to donate and volunteer but it feels too hard.
And they don’t know where to volunteer or how easy it really is to make a significant difference.
So we’re here to make it easier for you with the Family Volunteer Challenge for December.
How the Family Volunteer Challenge Works:
Every month, we’ll post a family-friendly service activity you and your kids can do together.
It’s 12 months, 1 activity each month, 10-30 minutes each month.
And it’ll be super easy.
We’ll give you a suggestion.
You can run with it, tweak it, make it your own, or scrap it and do something totally different.
Your only tasks are to commit to doing this as a family, talk about what you’re doing and why with your kids so it has a lasting impact, and then protect the time on your calendar so it doesn’t get pushed back.
And it also has to come with this crucial caveat…you can only do this Family Volunteer Challenge if you do it with no guilt.
- No guilt that you didn’t start it sooner. You’re starting now and that’s incredible.
- No guilt if one month, life got in the way and you skipped it. You can do it next month, no worries.
- No guilt if you think your kids are selfish and self-centered and are ungrateful. They probably are but that’s not their fault or yours. It’s how their brain is wired and we can turn giving to others and being generous into a learned habit.
Okay, now that we’re guilt-free, let’s start spreading some kindness.
12 Months of Volunteering as a Family:
Before we jump into December’s volunteering activity, you can check out our past month’s volunteer activities in case you missed it and want to do more.
Now for December’s Volunteer Challenge:
For December, we’re getting holiday gifts to kids who need them.
My family is so blessed that we have everything we need and most everything that we want.
My kids make Christmas and birthday wish lists and while they definitely do not get everything off their list, with large families on both sides they get almost everything.
They’ve never had a holiday that felt un-Christmasy because of a lack of presents. Santa always comes. And then because we are an interfaith family, we also celebrate Hanukkah, which means even more gifts.
So we focus on gratitude
And we focus more on giving than on receiving.
Do the Family Volunteer Challenge for December now:
There are several ways to do this volunteer activity.
If you find an angel tree, grab a few angels off the tree and have your kids help shop for the kids. Ask your kids what they want to pick out for them. Have your kids help you purchase the items and donate them.
If you don’t have an angel tree near you, purchase a few of the items of your kids’ holiday wish list with your kids and donate them to a Toys for Tots bin. Ask your kids what they would want, have them help you purchase the items, and have them put the gifts in the bin.
Or you can “sponsor” a child during the holidays and get things off their wish list. Many towns have Secret Santa lists organized through Facebook and now the USPS has their own version.
Again, the important part is not buying gifts. It’s not important how many gifts you buy or how valuable they are. The crucial thing to make this meaningful for your kids so they see the importance of helping others is getting your kids to participate, to pick out the gifts, and to physically hand the gifts over.
One trick I ask when I’m donating for one angel tree or sponsoring a child: “Is it better right now to sponsor more than one child and get a few less gifts or sponsor more kids and get a few less gifts?” That helps guide me so I can do the best for those I’m supporting.
Talk about it:
One of the most powerful parts of volunteering or donating something is talking to our kids about it so they understand the impact and the why. When they understand why they’re doing what they’re doing, they’re more likely to do it again.
Which will make volunteering more of an ingrained habit.
If you need help explaining it to younger kids, here’s how we do it: On Christmas/Hanukkah you always have tons of presents. We are very lucky that we’re able to give you lots of gifts. But some families don’t have extra money for gifts. They’re spending their money on food or paying for their house or medical bills. But we can help make a child’s Christmas special by buying gifts for them so they have gifts to open on Christmas, too. It’s way more important to give to others than to get for yourself.
You can also read books to help kids learn about poverty and the power of donating what we have to others:
Have a conversation with your kiddos after they donate the winter jackets about how easy it was to take the time to donate something we no longer need but can be a big help to others. We can remind them to appreciate what we do have and help them see that it’s important to help others.
And you can ask them these questions:
How would you feel if on Christmas you came downstairs and there were no presents because we couldn’t afford it?
What kinds of gifts would you really want if you didn’t get any gifts?
Why is giving better than getting?
How does it feel when we make sure other kids have gifts to open on Christmas?
Why is it important to give during Christmas time?
Celebrate and Spread the Word:
Be proud of your volunteering and let your kids know you’re proud of them. Celebrate the time your family spent donating winter coats and mittens.
And share the Family Volunteer Challenge for December with other families. Kindness is contagious. Challenge other families to join you by asking them to also take a minute to help others.