Helping Kids Think of Others: How Kids Can Give Back This Holiday Season

This article was written by Scary Mommy Editor Liz Henry, in partnership with Shutterfly.

The holidays are fast approaching, and it’s been a difficult year for many American families. Holidays become much more challenging when families are struggling, like those recovering from hurricanes Harvey and Erma and the wildfires in Minnesota and California. That means it’s up to us to step up and help out. As Mr. Rogers told us, it’s always important to look for the helpers, and I want my son to know that sometimes that “helper” is you.

kids giving back at food drive

Giving Back Helps Teach Empathy

So I decided I would actively work toward teaching my son empathy. I found the research by scientists Jean Decety and Jason Cowell super helpful in figuring out what concrete actions to take. Basically, it comes down to three things: emotional sharing, empathetic concern, and perspective taking (meaning putting yourself in someone else’s shoes). This made perfect sense, so I came up with a plan — and that plan includes doing plenty of giving back with my son’s involvement, particularly at the holidays.

Together we started looking for ways to give back, and we found some great ones. Here’s what we are thinking about doing this year.

Operation Santa

You already know the post office good-naturedly accepts all those “Dear Santa” letters, but did you know they have a program specifically for families in need called Operation Santa? Real families in your community write letters to this program asking for help. Their privacy is completely protected, but you will see the actual letters and you can then buy the gifts and the post office will send them (you do pay postage, but only the post office knows the address). We LOVE doing this one, and my son is hoping we’ll take three letters this year!

kid drawing santa letter

Buying From Companies That Give Back

I let my son know that when you buy something it can have the power to do good, which is why we buy our holiday cards from Shutterfly. Shutterfly has partnered with Make-A-Wish® and is donating $1 for every order from their Wish Card Collection made through December 8th, up to $75,000!

Make-A-Wish creates life-changing wishes for children with critical illnesses, and wishes help kids look past their limitations; families overcome anxiety and entire communities experience joy. Most importantly, wishes improve a child’s quality of life, giving them a better chance of recovering. So we sat down together and picked this card from the Wish Card Collection. What really hit my son was the idea that he felt like our purchase was one child helping another child. Nope, I’m not crying.

Winter Care Packages For The Homeless

Did you know the #1 thing homeless people need in the winter is socks and gloves? This might seem obvious, but when we were talking about how we can help the homeless people we see in our city, our local shelter told us that while food is great, it doesn’t keep toes warm in winter. So we created “Love Packages” that included a couple of snack items, gloves, socks, those “warm hand” packets, and a gift card to a local drug store. Drug store gift cards work because sometimes homeless folks need things like cough drops and personal care items like tampons or pads. We carry a few of our “Love” packages with us whenever we go out, and my son loves giving them away.

Holiday Cards For Soldiers

Our local American Red Cross is collecting letters to send to soldiers currently serving overseas. The cards and letters need to be generic, but my son’s really looking forward to writing on the cards himself. We’re planning to order a special batch of cards from the Wish Card Collection just for the soldiers, so we get to do twice the good!

Photo by: The Maine Tinker

Collecting Old Blankets & Towels For The Local Animal Shelter

My son just loves animals, so I knew this was one he’d just love. His birthday is right after the holidays and he loved the idea of asking his guests to bring old blankets and towels to his party so he could donate everything to our local animal shelter. Then, I can take a picture of him at the animal shelter with all the donations and create a thank you photo card to send to our guests so they get to see their good deeds in action.

I’m hoping that by laying the helpfulness foundation now, my son continues to give back when he’s older. I want him to recognize there’s a pretty good chance one day he will struggle in some way and he’ll need to look for a helper. And if he just so happens to have the good fortune of luck on his side and he doesn’t face a devastating obstacle, then he’ll step up in whatever way he can to make a difference and do a lot of good.

How are you planning to give back this holiday season?