Parenting in a Material World: 6 Ways to Teach Kids to Give this Holiday Season



The holidays—and the unfortunate materialism that comes with it—are here. Everywhere you look, messages are trying to entice you to buy more, have more, and want more.

Retailers fire off clever advertisements, all aiming to attract consumers. Unfortunately, they don’t spare our children. You might not be able to shield your children from catchy commercials and colorful catalogs. It is possible to teach them what it means to give in meaningful ways this holiday season.



Hannah, my 8-year-old daughter, circled nearly every item in the American Girl Doll catalog that recently came in the mail. She dreams of playing with the miniature diner and Samantha’s holiday set (whose prices are far from diminutive). I cringe when she lists the numerous items on her wish list.

It isn’t easy to raise non-materialistic children in today’s world. Yet, it’s a worthwhile undertaking. Here are a few activities that you and your child can do to help them learn what “gift” really means.

Draw Pictures for a Retirement Home

Kids’ drawings—with their misspelled words, silly images, and creative use of color—can brighten any one’s day, particularly the elderly.

Ask your child to draw his favorite outdoor winter activity or holiday tradition. Take time to explain where the picture is going, and why it will be such a treat.

Volunteer at a Homeless Shelter or Soup Kitchen

Instead of hearing your child say ‘I want’ during the holidays, see if you can change his narrative to ‘I’m grateful for.’ Introducing your child to others who are less fortunate might be one way to change his or her tune.

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Hannah has joined me when I’ve served dinner to residents at a homeless shelter. She always has great time interacting with the residents. Through smiles and brief conversations, she has learned that homeless people are just like us. This lesson of common humanity is an important one for children to learn.

Go to VolunteerMatch.org to find out if there’s a local shelter that could use a hand.

Send a Care Package to a Military Member or Peace Corps Volunteer

Members of the military and volunteers will be away from their families this holiday season. Express your gratitude by sending a care package. If you don’t know anyone in the military or Peace Corps, ask your friends on Facebook if they know anyone serving overseas.

Have fun putting a thoughtful package together with your child. The U.S. Postal Service offers free military care package kits.

Deliver Fun to a Pediatric Ward or Orphanage

I can’t imagine anything worse than spending the holidays in the hospital with my sick child, yet that is what many families face. Show your compassion by delivering happiness in the form of board games and coloring books.

Sadly, some children do not have families. They, too, could benefit from your thoughtfulness. Reach out to your local hospital or orphanage first to find out if they have any restrictions or specific needs.

Bake for Your Neighbors or Friends

My 95-year-old friend, Virginia, once told me that when she was a child, she and her mother would bake a cake every weekend and would cut the cake in half. Virginia and her mother would keep one half, and they would deliver the other half to someone—a new mother, someone mourning the loss of a loved one, or anyone who needed a pick-me-up. 

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You’ll enjoy creating memories with your children in the kitchen, while showing your neighbors or friends that you’re thinking of them. Involve your child by asking her what you should bake and who should be the recipient.

Give COMPASSION IT Wristbands

I founded a nonprofit organization that sells reversible black-and-white wristbands that puts compassion front-of-mind. Flip the wristband over when you “compassion it.” They come in pairs; so you and your child can each wear one. The wristbands are a fun way to introduce compassion to your family, and you’ll enjoy asking your child every evening what she did to flip her wristband.

We can’t hibernate until January, so we might as well do our best to spread some joy during this busy time of year. Perhaps these meaningful gifts will turn into holiday traditions for you and your family.

Do you have more ideas for how to introduce meaningful giving to children? Please share in the comments section. 


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