Give, Not Gimme

HandPrints3+Painted+HandsAre you a bit stressed out about the whole holiday-present- buying thing? Short on time and, maybe, short on funds? We sure are, but the good news is that it’s easy to make the holidays less about material gifts, and more about the feelings behind them — especially for the littles in your life.

One of the most satisfying (and fun) ways to unite  the fam and replace some of the stuff-buying frenzy is volunteering. Volunteerism sets a good example for kids, shows them up-close that the world is much bigger than the small bubble they live in, and helps the community at the same time. A triple win! Start it early, and kids grow up expecting and wanting to participate.

And here’s the secret sauce that seals the deal …  how often do our smalls guys get to feel like they really make a difference in the world? The wonderful, empowering message for kids is that they’re important enough to have an impact on someone or something else. SHAZAM!

Next step … finding the right organization. Not always easy with small humans in tow, because many hands-on volunteer opportunities don’t exactly welcome the younger set. But a little creativity is in order here.

Even the smallest kiddo (with a bit of supervision) can pick up garbage at the park, playground, or beach. You don’t have to be part of a big effort to do this. Get yours together, find some garbage bags, and head out.

Or become involved in repair and renovation efforts for low-income residents. Younger kids might not be able to do the big jobs, but helping out by fetching a paintbrush or holding the nails involves them just the same.

Work at a community food bank or soup kitchen as a family. Find an organization that serves the elderly. Take food to people who are homebound and visit with them. Your kids can brighten a lonely senior’s day instantly. Offer your family’s help at the local animal shelter. Help plant flowers or trees.

Big kids (read tweens and teens) love to do for younger kids, so consider collecting baby clothes and toys for an organization that serves low income families. Who doesn’t love shopping for that adorable tiny stuff?!

Get your young’uns involved in choosing the activity and they’ll be more enthusiastic when the time comes. Approach it with excitement and anticipation — remember, they take their cues from you. You’re creating  lifetime habits here, Mama, and this is one to be proud of. Fight the holiday gimmes this year, show your family the true meaning of Christmas, and log less time fighting for a parking spot at the mall.




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Rachel Zahn, MD is a pediatrician turned health writer who had three kids during medical school and pediatric training—crazy, huh?

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