During the holiday season most children’s attention goes to making their list and checking it twice. They can’t wait to open presents and play with all their new toys.

Perhaps this holiday season you’d like to inspire your child to think of others first and then carry this theme of giving throughout the new year?

Children who volunteer and help others at least one hour per week are less likely to become involved in at-risk behaviors, according to the Search Institute. Children gain a greater sense of empathy, purpose, and social activism when helping those in need. They also may feel more motivated to avoid teen pregnancy, alcoholism, etc. when they see first-hand the lasting effects it can have on one’s life.

It has also been found that kids who serve others have higher self-esteem, take on more responsibility, and develop better social skills. Those who volunteer report higher rates of happiness, too. Volunteering at a young age can also develop life-long social activism. And kids come to view themselves as contributors to the community who can make a difference in the world.

Here are 5 Ways You Can Get Started:

1. Simply make a meal, send cards, or offer to do chores for friends and relatives who may need a helping hand.

When a friend of the family or a relative is ill or grieving, have the kids help make a meal and make a card for the family. Helping those people you know can be just as important in developing a giving spirit as helping people across the globe.

2. Consider sponsoring a child in need through an organization such as Compassion International.

Compassion International connects you with an impoverished child in one of 26 countries. When you sponsor a child you send money each month to support that child. You can also exchange letters on an ongoing basis with that child. Your own child can donate money from his/her allowance each month for the payment and could also write one letter a month to the sponsored child.

3. Contact your local United Way for volunteer opportunities for families.

In the Twin Cities, you can call The Caring Connection at 612-340-7440 or search on-line at www.gtcuw.org/caringconnection. Enter “projects for kids and teens” and your zip code in the search bar.

4. Start a volunteer group for families in your neighborhood, school, or place of worship.

My friend, Jeannie Dykstra, and I started a group called, “Family Helping Hands.” Once a month we organize a volunteer event with the youth pastor at our church that’s family-friendly. The events we’re doing this year include: writing letters to deployed soldiers; donating and sorting gently used clothes for a free community clothing store called Kidz Klozet; Christmas caroling at senior centers; playing games and doing crafts with seniors; decorating Valentine cookies and delivering them to shut-ins; making sandwiches for the homeless through the Sandwich Project; and volunteering with Feed My Starving Children.

5. Find inspiration for your child to start a volunteer project of their own at www.kidsareheroes.org

Gabe O’Neill and his daughter, MaryMargaret started “Kids are Heroes” in 2008. They call their website and organization, “A non-profit incubator for very young social entrepreneurs.” They showcase hundreds of children who volunteer from all over the world and offer them support and guidance to “empower children to become compassionate leaders by engaging them in youth volunteerism.”

For instance, a youth named Alex collected used Legos and packaged them for homeless children who didn’t have toys. A 9-year-old girl named Erin played her violin for tips at the Farmer’s Market on a regular basis and donated the money she earned to Partners in Haiti. Another girl named Corinne started “Warm Winters” at age 11 and gathered unclaimed jackets, gloves and winter apparel from lost and found areas and gave them to the homeless. For more ideas, visit http://www.kidsareheroes.org/lily.htm with your child.

“I’ve witnessed a big boost in confidence in children who create service projects, “ said O’Neill. “When children work three or four months to raise money and they hand that money over to the recipient, they just beam. When kids give of themselves, it helps them on so many levels. The kids featured on our website see a problem and they want to fix it. They create the solution themselves and become little entrepreneurs. Their careers soar later in life because they have the experience of raising money, managing resources, being interviewed, and working with adults.”

Let’s make this season and the year to come a season of giving for your child and family.

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