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10 Ways to Give Back This Holiday Season


Kids are already drawing up first drafts of their wish lists this holiday season, but what can you do to make the coming months about more than getting presents and eating until you're a whole new level of full? Check out these ten ways to give back during the holidays.

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By Samantha Cleaver

From filling stockings to filling up on pie, the holiday season can reinforce the “gimme-gimme” attitude in all of us. This year, set aside a little time to practice gratitude, empathy, and thoughtfulness with your family with these 11 ways to remember what truly matters.

Holiday Party Briefing

When you’re a kid, the holidays can feel like a blur of new faces and forced courtesies. Before the next holiday get-together, flip through some old family photos with your child. Share stories about the relatives and friends who are coming that will help him connect with them. Etiquette expert Hilary Brennan recommends having your child write down some questions to ask them. Trying to relate to people he doesn't know well not only builds social skills—it encourages him to appreciate and love them instead of just thinking of them as random people who come around once a year to shower him with gifts.

Writing Thank You Notes

In the digital age, it’s easy to shoot off a quick text or email to say our thank-yous, but taking the time to write some old-fashioned thank you notes will give your child a chance to dwell on what he’s thankful for and give him practice articulating it. He can even make a cute card to write it in! Recent studies have shown that expressing gratitude makes you feel even more thankful and happier overall. Sit down with your kid after a holiday event to handwrite notes to the guests or host, and for gifts he received. As a bonus, he’ll also get to practice his writing and language skills.

Gift Wrapping

It's tempting to take advantage of cheap or free gift wrapping at stores, but wrapping a present together with your child is a loving touch that makes gift-giving more personalized and special. It's also a great craft activity for you and your little helper. Use butcher paper and an assortment of craft supplies from crayons to glitter and pompoms to create an adorable package that's as much a treat to look at as it is to receive.

Out With the Old

Before the new presents come pouring in, have your kid fill a box full of old toys that he hasn't played with in some time. Talk to him about how donating his toys will bring a smile to the face of another child who's less fortunate. After he's parted with some of his old stock, praise him for his generous spirit to help him make a habit of spreading the joy around.

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Visit a Nursing Home

Bake a big batch of cookies, put them in some festive bags, and make a trip to a nursing home nearby. Take some time to have your little one visit with elderly who might feel especially lonely during the holidays. Maybe even encourage a few hugs for some extra warm fuzzies! If your child has a few other friends who can tag along, organize a caroling group. It doesn't have to be a Broadway production—even a couple tunes will make everyone's day. 

Cook for a Crowd

Reach out to a local homeless shelter, family organization or religious organization and ask if they can hook you up with a family to cook a holiday meal for. Get your kid involved in planning and cooking the meal. Or, hold a holiday cooking party with friends and family to contribute to a food pantry. Grown-up party guests can cook or bake together, or make healthy snack bags (pistachio and dried cranberry mix), and kids can wrap treats with a festive bow and include a handwritten holiday greeting.

Have a Bake Sale

The chilly weather and holiday spirit always has everyone craving some delicious baked goods. Make some brownies, breads, candied popcorn or hot-cocoa-in-a-bag and organize a bake sale at your school, community center, or church. Instead of pocketing the dough, donate all the money to a charity of your child's choice. Help your little activist (and his friends, if they're involved) choose a charity he feels a connection with, and have him tell customers all about it as they're browsing the table.

Have a Travelling Talent Show

Get your kid's friends and their parents involved in a holiday performance to show at a shelter, hospital, or nursing home. Plays and music performances are always a hit, but if that's not really your child's niche, think outside the box! A poetry reading, cute dance, a few magic tricks, or that perfect cartwheel will warm hearts just as much. Mini Monets can create a series of holiday paintings to decorate the walls, too. There's nothing like proud, beaming kids to lift people's spirits.

Make a List

...and not one full of presents your child wants. Have him make a list of wishes he has for family, friends, and people around the world for the holiday season. You can frame the question as, "If you had ten wishes to spend on people other than yourself, what would you wish for?" Prompt him to think of what things might make others happy, but give him a chance to reflect on his own. If you celebrate Christmas with Santa, your kid can even decorate the paper and send it off to the North Pole along with his personal wish list.

Have a Craft Party

Invite all the arts and crafts enthusiasts you know over to pool some supplies and help kids do some cute DIY gifts to give away, whether its to troops overseas or your neighbor down the street. You can create some beautiful pasta snowflake ornaments and paper snow globes, or, for a more practical gift, get some plain sweatshirts and have kids paint designs on them for a gift that will keep someone cozy inside and out.

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Gratitude, like positive thinking or breaking a bad habit, is something that comes from practice. Helping your child learn how to appreciate what he has and the value of giving to the less fortunate won't put a damper on the festivities—it will make them more joyful and meaningful for everyone involved and support a charitable mindset that will stick with him as he grows up.