By Sarah Niman
They’ve written their wish lists and checked them twice, but the anticipation of gifts makes it is easy for kids to miss the true meaning of the holidays.
Parents looking to teach their kids about the spirit of giving can take advantage of many activities built into the holiday season in Ottawa, from volunteering time to small gestures of kindness.
Hannah Gregory, 8, said her family has a tradition of going to the toy store, choosing items they really want, and then donating them to kids who may otherwise not receive any gifts.
“Helping people is the nice thing to do, and it makes them feel happy,” she said. Her family of eight is quite busy, so they have found ways to make a difference to others that don’t take away from their packed schedules.
“We collect food for the food bank, give the toys we pick, and give Gifts of Hope,” she said, referring to the online catalog at plancanada.ca. In previous years, the Gregory family has given pigs, chicks, malaria nets and school supplies to children and families in third world countries. Organizations like Unicef, World Vision and Oxfam also have websites that make it easy for children to choose gifts, with a parent’s help, and learn how those gifts will improve a real family’s life.
The next time you and the kids hear a radio advertisement for toy sales listing the most coveted items, seize the opportunity to steer the conversation to thinking of those who could use some kindness and generosity.
Encouraging kids to contemplate ways to help others who are grieving, sick, lonely or less fortunate starts a journey of generosity that extends well beyond the holiday season.
As their growing minds process inequality, hardship and tragedy, giving them ways to help, even a little, empowers them to make positive changes through meaningful acts of kindness.
In Ottawa, there are many churches and community outreach groups that organize food hamper programs, and many need volunteers to help deliver the packages of food, toiletries and small gifts. Including kids in the delivery process can take conversations about generosity and kindness to a more tangible level.
Delivering handmade cards to seniors in long-term care facilities or colouring a picture for a sick neighbor teaches children to practice empathy.
The Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa’s annual Angel Tree program also needs volunteers to help distribute gifts to children who may otherwise not receive any, as well as gift donations.
Instilling a spirit of generosity doesn’t require big gestures. Parents worried about spreading themselves thin over the holidays can turn everyday activities into opportunities to help others.
If your child hosts a play date, set them up with colouring supplies to make holiday cards to bring to a nearby seniors residence, brightening someone’s day. Ottawa’s Bruce House also collects handwritten cards by mail, and gives them to residents living with and affected by HIV and AIDS.
If you’re feeling festive, choose toys at the store that your kids can then donate to charity.
When busy in the kitchen with holiday baking, invite your child up to the counter to stir, crack eggs, and discuss who might enjoy receiving the treats. Letting them direct the act of goodwill encourages them to think of those who may be feeling sad or lonely, and provides them a concrete way to help.
Whether your family’s holidays are chock full of events or tend to be more laid back, there are endless ways to practice the art of giving. When parents make the decision to shift the holiday’s focus from gifts to giving, children begin to see the world beyond their front door as a place where people help those who can’t always help themselves.