This week I went to Atlanta to speak at Kennesaw University about balancing your life through service and giving back. I must say that I love this topic and had a really enjoyable time speaking to the university students. What was really great though, the university had such a diverse student body. There were 50 year old freshmen, married couples, ex military, and your average aged college student, all mixed together. But this blog is not really on speaking topic, or the audience, but about one question that was asked of me: “How do you engage your children in service work?” Furthermore, “How do you help children understand that there are other children and adults in the world that are not as blessed as they are?” These two questions were a dream come true, because as a mother of 3 small children I am always asking myself the same question and trying to encompass what I know into their lives. I want my children to understand that they MUST lead a life of service, whatever shape or form that it takes for their own individual lives. In this blog, I will share some of my ideas, especially ones that fall around the holidays and birthdays.
But first, one thing that I say to all of my friends and in my upcoming book “If It Takes a Village: Build One” is that first and foremost, I believe wholeheartedly that you must talk to children about service and giving back as soon as they enter this world. You must make them a part of your own service life and not worry that they are too young. Just like everything else that young, young children pick up, they will begin to understand the importance of it and will not remember a time in their lives that it was not made a priority. I mean, we automatically teach them about manners, respecting their elders, and set boundaries and rules for their lives. Well, we can also talk with them about volunteerism, help them develop habits about giving back, being appreciative, and feeling blessed for what they have. So, when I answered the question asked to me by a couple with a very small child, I said you can start small with a few simple things like explaining to your children each time you sit down to eat, how blessed you are to have this food. Chat with them in words that they can understand about the children in the world who are not going to have a meal today or tomorrow. Let them know that we must pray for them and hope that they receive the food that they need and deserve very soon. Let your kids know that they must be grateful for their food each and every day. And then there are many chances to teach children about giving back on holidays, birthdays, celebrations, and the like.
Since we’re in October, let’s talk about Halloween, which is the perfect opportunity for children to raise funds and awareness for others through Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF. Children have been trick-or-treating for UNICEF since 1950 and have raised $144 million to go towards UNICEF’s efforts towards immunizations, education, clean and safe water, nutrition, maternal health and disaster relief for women and children in over 160 countries worldwide. The concept is so simple: you just log on and order an orange carton for your children, their friends, and possibly their entire school. When your children go out to trick-or-treat, they hold their candy bag in one hand and their orange carton in the other. They say “Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF!” and collect coins in their orange box. After the holiday, you send a check to UNICEF for the money collected, donate online or by phone for the amount, or you can even go to your local CoinStar machine and delivery the donation there by picking the UNICEF Fund button on the screen. What’s even better, is that you can go on the UNICEF website to show your children how their collections will be used. Be sure to visit their site beforehand too, as you can read ideas on Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF Halloween parties, play games, enter contests, read about the campaign spokespeople, and many other great tips for you and your children to have a creative and meaningful holiday.
Another great way is around the holidays. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, Eid or any other spiritual celebration, this is a great time to truly teach your children what the holiday season is really all about. As we all know, we have been voicing for a long time that we care tired of Madison Avenue and advertising taking over our holiday seasons and turning them into a commercial enterprise. Lately, we can’t even celebrate Thanksgiving before all the commercials and advertisements come on about what we should buy each other for the holidays. Maybe it is just me, but I find this ridiculous and offensive. Our world is screwed up enough because of materialism without advertisers turning our spiritual holidays into “buy fest.” As a mother, and someone who happens to celebrate Christmas, it is so important for my children to understand the true meaning of the holiday. So in addition to my teachings and reading to them, I took the emphasis off of gifts and put the emphasis on giving. We are a give and gift family. What this means is that the amount of gifts that Santa gives to my children, they have to give the same number of gifts from their rooms and playroom to charity. Additionally, they must match any other gifts that family and friends give to them. We begin to talk about where we will donate our items long before Santa comes down the chimney. My mother, their grandmother, started another wonderful tradition. She writes each child a letter about a charity explaining what their mission is and writes a check out in each child’s name to that charity. Additionally, she writes a second check in which my children can fill in the charity of their choice. I absolutely love this and we have such a good time choosing the charity that they pick themselves. Of course, as you can imagine, this allows them to feel good about themselves, research different causes, and is ripe for great discussions about the in our global world. Personally, we also give gifts to The Salvation Army, an organization that works to make sure that every child has a nice holiday in every corner of our country.
Recently, my daughter Lola was invited to a birthday party where we were asked to only bring books. The invitation said that all of the books would be donated to a local homeless shelter. What a great idea! After the party, the kids dropped the books off together at the shelter. The party was so exciting to my daughter from the minute she received the invitation. We went to the bookstore together to pick out the book, she wrapped it herself, we went to the party and had a great time, and then she was able to actually see where her book was going. I thought that this was such an amazing way to teach children about service, giving, and sacrifice. And I must admit I am excited to do the exact same thing for one of my daughter’s birthdays. Now, just FYI, we do the exact same thing for their birthdays as we do for Christmas. On the same day that we open birthday gifts, write down the names of those who gave the gifts for thank you notes, we go down to the playroom and pick the same number of toys to give away. We are lucky in that we have an organization called Baby Buggy in our area where we donate out toys and other items. But there are many organizations in every city that accept new and slightly used children’s toys, such as homeless shelters, domestic violence shelters, community centers, and hospitals. You just need to take the time to call around and you will find a good home for these gifts.
Lastly, there are many great programs that have exciting and amazing websites that can teach your children about service at home or in their schools. Examples include O Ambassadors, Do Something, Free the Children, Invisible Children, and Global Youth Action Network. Plus, you can subscribe to magazines and newsletters that have a global focus, such as Time for Kids and Highlights. These publications are fabulous and will help you to teach your children about issues here at home and globally.
So, I hope that the students question inspires you as much as it inspired me. And I am always looking for new ideas to introduce to my kids and to share with others, so please send in your ideas and suggestions if you have them.
Until next time, peace and many blessings.