We have our share of holiday traditions at our place, and yes, many are pretty similar to what’s going on in other households across the country: we light the menorah; decorate the Christmas tree; spend too much on presents; eat lots of fried appetizers at parties; the list goes on. But there’s one custom I look forward to every December (besides a wine-and- board-games-filled Christmas Eve with my favourite people)—that doubles as the perfect “why giving is important” teaching moment. Our girls (Addyson, 10, and Peyton, 8) hit the toy store, lovingly choose and buy presents (with their own debit cards), then we visit a special place to our family, Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, and deliver the haul.
“Inspiring children to give back to the community is an important step in their development—it helps build compassion and empathy, and encourages kindness from an early age,” says Karen Young, the president and chief executive officer of United Way of Calgary and Area. “Once we encourage our children to help other people, it starts to become a way of life for them, and they begin to experience fulfillment and a boost in their self-esteem when they realize they can make a difference.” While it’s not the only time of year we give back, our family trip to SickKids has affected all four of us.
That’s one reason (of so many) to make charity a family affair. Not only does it remind Mom and Dad to practice empathy and feel thankful, it also allows us to do something truly good with and for our kiddos. “By fostering kids’ charitable impulses well into their adolescence and young adulthood, parents have a unique opportunity to shape the next generation of community leaders,” says Young. Read on for five ways to give back as a family now and throughout the year
“This is a great way to grow together and have a positive impact,” Young says, adding volunteering is “more than handing over a donation and walking away—it’s about the journey that gift will take (whether time, talent or treasure) and the impact it will make on the community. If the kids are into animals, call your local shelter and see what they need. If they’re budding artists, do some painting together and take your creations to brighten up a nursing home.
2. Adopt a family
Try this one for the holidays. The Adopt-a-Family program (look online for one in your area) matches families in need (usually referred by social services) with families who want to make a difference. Kids’ wish lists are often full of toys and games, of course, but parents often ask for necessities—winter wear, toiletries, linens, grocery cards, diapers, etc.
3. Create a charity budget
Next time you’re all sitting around the dinner table, says Young, “talk about what needs each family member sees in their lives and what the best ways of solving that need might be.” Talk about allocating some of everyone’s budget—including allowances—to solving the issues the family is passionate about.
4. Do good deeds
Make a list of simple ways to help in your community—clean up garbage on your family walk, shovel driveways on your street, make a meal for a neighbour who could use a hand. Remind your kids that making a difference isn’t about making a huge gesture or spending a lot of money.
United Way’s yearly cross-Canada Plane Pull events are great fundraisers. “We organize a Kids’ Pull event where kids fundraise to pull an 11,000-pound airplane across tarmac,” Young says. “This is often where many children make their first charitable donation of $10. It’s a fantastic way of motivating them to think about giving from a young age.”
Originally published in the Winter 2018 issue.