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Natural Awakenings SW PA, Greater Pittsburgh

Instilling the Giving Spirit in Kids

Child in giving spirit by holiday tree

jonathan borba/

Children love getting gifts, but they also love the feeling of giving them, and the holidays are an optimal time to encourage this natural human impulse. Giving helps build their empathy and compassion muscles, which in turn makes for happier, more fulfilled lives, studies show.

Bridging the hug gap. With grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and family friends less likely to be sitting around the table this year, having kids open those presents when the loved ones are on the other side of the Zoom or FaceTime screen can help ease the pain of the time apart. Or children can put together a love package for them that includes drawings and notes to be opened on the other end of a livestream virtual gathering. 

Care for the community. “So many families have been devastated by COVID-19 and fires this year. And many of us have become aware of the cost of institutional racism to families of color,” says psychologist Laura Markham, author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids. “Why not discuss and decide on a family gift to make the world a better place? You could decide how much you would normally have spent on presents and give some portion of that away to help people who are struggling or support a cause that is important to you.”

Simple steps like giving neighbors homemade cookies or candies tied with ribbons can also do much to lift holiday spirits. With her kids, Beth Kempton, author of Calm Christmas and a Happy New Year: A Little Book of Festive Joy, makes up a batch of mince pie to share. “We might be wearing masks, along with Santa hats, and leaving the holiday treats on doorsteps instead of going in our neighbors’ homes this year, but we can still share holiday cheer,” she says. Alexandra Fung, CEO of the parent networking site Upparent, says her family in Chicago will provide gift boxes for families in need through their church or a local nonprofit and may work together to make blankets for traumatized and ill children using patterns supplied by the nonprofit Project Linus.

We are the world. Another approach is to give children a small sum to donate, perhaps $10 or $20, and encourage them to find a cause they care about in town or by researching online—from putting money in a Salvation Army Christmas kettle to saving rainforest animals. Or encourage them to find a humanitarian or environmental project to focus on over the holidays. At Upparent, kids can find 11 ways to help others around the world without leaving the house, like turning old jeans into shoes to help Ugandan children fight parasites or helping to track animals in the wild. The National Environmental Education Foundation lists dozens of at-home projects for kids, such as doing a home-energy audit, creating a compost pile and helping to identify wildlife caught on camera for a digital database.


Reinvent the Holidays: More Meaning, Less Stuff

The pandemic is shifting this year’s holidays, motivating parents to seek out affordable, meaningful, sustainable and non-material gift ideas for kids, saving money and creating memories. Read More » 


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