Teaching Kids to Understand What it Means to be Thankful

Family Matters on 11.08.11
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Photo: Walmart Stores/Creative Commons

If your Facebook page is anything like mine, it's abuzz with the many reasons your friends are thankful as we approach the holiday season. As parents, most of us try to instill these ideals in our kids from an early age. We start by teaching them how to say "please" and "thank you," which most kids are able to comprehend with some nudging. Often, we take for granted that they understand the concept of "thankful," which can be tricky for little tykes to grasp.

For smaller kids in particular, it's often better to be more demonstrative when it comes to vague concepts like thankfulness. Most of the time, you can kill two birds with one stone by helping other people in the process. Here are volunteer ideas for kids at all ages, whether they need reminding of their fortunate status or not!

Small Kids (3-5) - Giving Tree or Food Bank
Most churches and plenty of private institutions have a Giving Tree or similar donation opportunity during the holidays. Rather than doing all of the work yourself, bring your child along on the shopping trip to pick out toys, food and clothes for underprivileged children. Explain during the process how many families can't afford the many nice things your child enjoys, and that they need his help to have a wonderful holiday season. This will teach him slowly to be more appreciative of his copious belongings, while also showing him that not every gift purchased is destined for him. Then seek his help wrapping the items and making cards or dropping food off at the food pantry.

Slightly Older Kids (6-12) - Give Directly
Although non-profits certainly appreciate a check or cash, I'm talking more about tangible goods. Older kids can help you rifle through gently used coats and clothing to donate to a homeless shelter or women's center. Or, you can purchase all the components for hygiene kits, like toothbrushes, tooth paste and soap, to provide to homeless centers. Your child can accompany you to make the drop-off and learn from a center representative how his efforts will be used to help others.

Older Kids (Tweens on Up) - Get in the Trenches, So to Speak
Many hospitals have volunteer programs geared toward teenagers, or you can sign up for the family to serve dinner at the local soup kitchen on Thanksgiving or Christmas Day. Sure, you might encounter some grumbling at first, but it's pretty difficult for kids to be anything but humbled when they encounter people that don't have all of the creature comforts they often take for granted.

Volunteering with your family need not be limited to the holidays. Most non-profits desperately seek year-round assistance from people of all ages, particularly once the giving spirit of the season wears off. Consider working with your local humane society or environmental clean-up organization to foster your child's goodwill on a constant, rather than sporadic, basis.

How does your family give back to the community or help others in need?  

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