The holiday season is the perfect time to begin actively nurturing the qualities of compassion, empathy and benevolence in your child. Although you have likely already begun to do this in less obvious ways-showing them how to hug their sibling when she is sad or speak kindly to a friend when he is upset, the holiday season is an opportunity to expand this message to the more international community with your child.
The recent tragic events in our world demonstrating hatred and violence make it more important than ever to teach our children to be kind, caring, loving and empathetic. The often consistent media messages which tolerate individual selfishness, narcissism and rudeness need to be counteracted for our children by teaching them philanthropy, generosity and kindness. As a parent, you have the capacity to influence your child’s ability to empathize and their willingness to be compassionate towards others. This is a skill that develops over time through practice, modeling and family discussion.
In her article “8 Ways to Teach Compassion to Kids”, Signe Whitson, states “When children become actively involved in acts of showing compassion to others, they learn about this value in a very deep and enduring way.” Activities that are age appropriate, meaningful and fun for children are especially effective learning tools for them. The holiday season is ripe with opportunities for you and your children to actively practice compassion. The following list contains ideas for you to help your child to become a kinder, gentler person:
- Help your child choose canned goods from your kitchen to donate to a food pantry.
- Choose a child’s name from a local “Gift Giving Tree” and let your child pick some of the gifts and toys to purchase.
- Have an elderly or disabled neighbor? Allow your child to rake leaves or take out the garbage for them.
- Take coffee or hot chocolate to a bell ringer who is volunteering their time to collect money for the underprivileged.
- Let your child help you bake cookies to take to the local firehouse or police station to thank them for their help and protection.
- Help your child select some of his or her outgrown clothes to donate to charity.
- Wearing gloves, let your child help you pick up trash in a local park.
- Take a bag of cat food or dog toys to give to a local humane shelter.
- Let your child dress up in her holiday best to visit a nursing home to distribute candy canes to the elderly.
- If your child has an outgrown coat, let them donate it to a children’s coat collection project.
- Allow your child to give something from his piggy bank to your church collection this Sunday.
- If your child has some books or toys he has outgrown, allow her to take them to a domestic violence shelter for the children there.
- Let your child help you make some holiday fudge to take to an area group home.
- Allow your child to make purchases at the Dollar Store to prepare a stocking for a less fortunate child.
- If you have old reading glasses in your home, let your child donate them to a Lion’s Club bin to help others with their eyesight.
- Participate with your child in serving a holiday meal to the indigent at a local soup kitchen.
- Let your child help you bake cupcakes to share with his or her friends at school.
- Help your child make homemade holiday cards for family and friends to show their love.
- When your child prepares to go see Santa, help him to compose a “wish list” for the other children in the world.
At the end of each day, perhaps during your family dinner, let your child share his or her feelings about what they did and how they felt after doing it. Discuss how this action actually helped someone else. This combination of actively engaging in a compassionate activity and connecting that activity to internal feelings and empathy for someone else is a powerful way to teach your child to become a gentle, considerate, sympathetic, helpful, and generous human being. It is an excellent way to help your child to grasp the meaning of “holiday spirit”!