This is the season of light, and as a child it was one of my favorites. The tree was surrounded by presents. We said a prayer before our Christmas meal, thanking God for the bounty in front of us.
I also had that child’s view that everyone must have this, loving parents, plenty of food, and annoying siblings. One day my warm view of the world was blown away. I opened up my best friend’s refrigerator to find that her family was desperately in need of food.
Knowing when to talk to your kids about difficult subjects is, well, difficult. You want to protect your children from the ugliness in life, but you also don’t want them to be blindsided and not know what to do.
Here are some ways to include caring for the less fortunate in your holiday activities:
Don’t talk: Act. Children follow where their parents lead. One of the most aggravating and encouraging traits children have is that they will do as you do, not necessarily as you say. I write checks to charities at the end of the year as part of our financial planning. That’s an essential way to help, but hard for kids to wrap their head around.
The trick is to make your charitable giving visible to your children. Take advantage of the numerous trips you will be making to the grocery and other stores during the next few weeks. Buy an extra can of food or a toy. Have your child choose what you get by picking from a short list. Drop the item at your local food bank or collection site for toys.
Discuss with your child the idea of helping others. Children want to know where they fit, what their role is. Let your child know that he or she can be part of the fight against childhood hunger. Give your child an example of a time when you helped a friend or were helped by someone.
I give kids the example of tying shoes. I was hopeless at tying shoes. (A rocket scientist could not have followed my mother’s instructions.) Then, one of my friends showed me bunny ears. Wow! I was suddenly tying shoes like everyone else.
Ask your child to tell you about a time he or she helped a friend on the playground or in the classroom. Emphasizing the web of relationships we all live in will empower your child with a sense of community, even when facing large problems.
Keep the discussion upbeat and age-appropriate. You want to be honest, but you don’t want to share any fears you may have.
This is, I believe, where your child will help you. Children don’t see the huge obstacles that we do, and they often see the path around an obstacle. Will dropping one can of tuna at the food bank eliminate childhood hunger in the United States? No. But teaching our kids that they are part of the answer, and letting ourselves be part of the answer, then we are going to see progress.
Keep hope in the equation. Working together, we can beat childhood hunger.
You can find your local foodbank through Feeding America's website.
For toy donations, many churches and stores have donation boxes or you can go to Toys for Tots.