11 Ways to Give Back During the Holidays

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.

Teach at the Table. Before the next family gathering, sit down with your child and flip through your old family photos. Talk about the relatives who are coming, and share stories that will help your child connect with them. Hilary Brennan, etiquette teacher and owner of Socially Savvy in Moorestown, NJ, recommends having your child write down some questions he can ask them. Helping your child connect with relatives he may not know well builds social skills and empathy in others.

Write Your Own Thank You Notes. Taking the time to write old fashioned thank you notes will increase your child’s appreciation. Sit down with your child after a holiday event to handwrite thank you notes for the event and the gifts he received. Your child will get to practice his writing and language skills—email just isn’t the same!

Design Your Own Stationary or Gift Wrap. Use blank cards, butcher paper, and craft supplies to make your own stationary or wrapping paper. If you’re sending many presents to family around the country, home-made wrapping paper will make those gifts extra special.

Be Santa’s Helper. When it comes to cards and gifts, taking the time to add a a personal touch can make all the difference. Michele Borba, parenting expert and author, recommends creating some gifts from scratch. It could be homemade jewelry for a younger sibling or a booklet of Dad’s favorite activities to do with him during the year.

Plan a Donation. Have your child choose a charity that she cares about, and in the weeks leading up to December, set aside a portion of her allowance to donate. What makes a donation gift really successful is involving your child at every step, from deciding how much money to put aside to choosing and delivering the donation.

Cook a Delicious Meal. Reach out to a local homeless shelter, family organization or religious organization and ask if they hook you up with a family to cook a holiday meal for. Engage your child in planning and cooking the meal, and make sure you make enough to share!

Throw a Giving Party. If your family hosts a holiday party, ask guests to bring a gift for a child. Once you’ve gathered several gifts, bring them to a local shelter or Angel Tree Project. “The most important thing,” says Borba, “is your child’s experience of delivering the presents.”

Deliver a Batch of Cheer. Next time you bake cookies, make a double batch and deliver some to a neighbor. As you’re baking, ask your child how she thinks your neighbor will feel to receive the surprise.

Fill a Donation Box. Give your child a box and have them clean out their closet and toy box. Then pick out the gently-used toys and clothes to donate to a local shelter or organization.

Host the Holiday. It’s easy to bring people together with a dinner party. From deciding who to invite to sending invitations to setting the table, each step of planning the event will teach your child how special a dinner can be. On the day of the party, younger children can greet guests and older children can give a toast to the guests during dinner.

Sing Out. Involve your neighborhood friends in a night of caroling by sending out fliers or emails a few weeks ahead of time. Try to involve everyone by planning according to their strengths. Perhaps your older child wants to play an instrument, or a younger child wants help create the playlist.

Extend the holiday cheer into the New Year by revisiting the projects you did throughout the year. “We don’t just want joy and hope during the holidays,” says Brennan, “we want it all year long.”

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