As Thanksgiving fast approaches, I’m always thinking of special ways that my kids can give back to others. They’re only 3 and 5 so they don’t fully understand what gratitude means, but they do know the basic concepts of sharing, helping and caring. There are plenty of ways that we can teach our kids how to share, help and care by doing it ourselves and having them join in.
Here are 6 simple activities that parents and kids can do together to give back:
1. Pick Up Trash
Start by taking a walk around your neighborhood and bring a bucket or bag with you to collect the litter that you see. Or, wherever you happen to be if you see some trash, show your kids it’s ok to help clean up the places you go. At a playground, ask your kids to pick up 3 pieces of trash before they start playing. This will become a habit and they’ll continue doing this without thinking about it. If you keep a box of baggies, old grocery bags, or a small bucket in your car, stroller or diaper bag, this makes it easy to do wherever you are. Gloves and trash picker uppers are helpful too.
We had just finished a bucket of popcorn from one of the museums at Balboa Park when we were walking back to our car. I noticed a lot of trash around the "Big Fig" and instinctively I picked up a large chip bag and threw it away. My kids started looking for trash and I didn't even tell them to. They made a game of it all by themselves and ran around the tree collecting all the litter they found and put it in our empty popcorn bucket.
Unfortunately, litter is all around wherever you go and there's always an opportunity to help clean up the places that you visit.
2. Donate Anything
At this time of year there are food donation boxes everywhere, and next month there will be toy drives and donation boxes all around town. The Goodwill, Salvation Army and other thrift stores accept donations of almost anything year round. Shelter’s appreciate toiletry and personal care items. Animal Shelters could use old towels, pet bowls and collars & leashes.
We’ve always got toys, books & clothes that my kids seem to outgrow every few months. Sometimes I’ll collect hotel toiletry samples from a past hotel stay, thinking I’ll use them, when someone else could really use them more than I. My kids are used to helping me sort through what we don’t use or need anymore and they’ll even tell me when they’re done with a toy and ask if they can donate it.
We have a collection box in the garage that we put donation items in throughout the month and when it’s full, I make sure to bring the kids with me to donate it. This helps them make the connection to see where it goes and who can use it instead.
3. Volunteer Yourself
Time is the cheapest, most appreciated gift that you can give someone. Help someone out, spend time with them, agree to a favor even if you don’t really feel like it. At this time of year there are a lot of options to give your time as a family. Food shelters, churches, community centers, senior care homes, hospitals, and animal shelters, among others would love some extra help. There are always tasks appropriate for the kids to help out with too.
You don’t have to organize within your city, you can do something on your own amongst your family, friends or neighbors. Rake your elderly neighbor’s lawn or mow their yard, bring dinner to new parents or to someone who’s sick or even just visiting and getting to know your neighbors will bring about an opportunity to help them out in the future.
4. Thank You Cards
There’s always a reason to give Thanks to someone. And it doesn’t just have to be for birthday or Christmas presents or at Thanksgiving. Although, it seems the standard mom-to-mom Thank You text has taken over kids writing or drawing out their own Thank You cards to their friends and family. Maybe you could bring that back as a way to help kids show their own thanks for the cool presents they received.
Did a friend buy your drink at Starbucks the other day? Did a neighbor help you move some furniture or let you borrow some tools? Did a friend drive you to the airport or take care of your pets while you were away? Involve your kids to help you write or draw a Thank You note for a good deed that others have done for you. This will show your kids how you give thanks to others, and they will (hopefully) be more inclined to do this when it’s their turn to give thanks.
5. Give Compliments
The other day my son came home from school and told me about the lunch lady’s shirt that he liked. It was around Halloween time and she wore a shirt with a cute little haunted house and ghosts peaking out the windows. He told her that he liked her shirt. My heart melted. I wasn’t there to encourage him or tell him what to say. He did it all on his own. I have no problem talking with strangers about random things and giving compliments if I see something I like. He must have learned that just by watching me. Sometimes it’s the little things that will make someone’s day.
6. Thank Your Family
It all starts at home. In our day to day routines, we often overlook those close to us for doing something helpful. I ask my kids to help each other out if I’m busy in the kitchen, you know, where I spend half of my day making food that doesn’t get eaten. They always need my help right when my hands are covered in food of some kind. I ask Big Brother to help Little Brother put his shoes on or vice versa to get something they’re each asking for. My husband does most of our laundry and grocery shopping and as for me, well mom’s don’t need to be thanked for every single thing we do because that would take all day. Ha! Anyway, my point is, we all help each other out around the house and it’s nice to be thanked for something once in a while.
I started to put some cut out heart papers in a plastic bag that I taped to the wall. It's very rudimentary and definitely not even Pinterest-worthy! It’s low enough for my kids to reach and I encourage them to give someone a heart to who’s helped them out. Usually they hold onto it for a little bit and then it gets set down and forgotten and falls onto the floor. I’ll collect them and put them back in the bag for another time. This is something so simple and yes they forget about it after 5 seconds, but it’s that little moment of making someone feel acknowledged and appreciated. How we make others feel matters more than what we physically give.