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How Do You Shape Thankful Hearts with Family?

What do free time and the holidays have in common? Frankly, not always a lot, since holidays can be an busy time of year. But when I do carve out free time, I always make sure to talk to my kids about being generous.

How many times do we take the kids into the store, watching them grasp toward some toy or treat on the shelf? During the holidays, it’s all about the new toy or video game. So, we decided as a family to talk about being generous and giving. I wanted to share with you a few ways that our family does that, not just at Thanksgiving, but all year long.

1. Start with gratitude

Thankful heart activities coverWith the numerous school and church crafts of thankful hand turkeys, it’s easy to think about gratitude throughout the month of November. (If you need some nifty ideas, here is a free activity ebook Food for the Hungry created, 7 Days to Teach Your Child to Have a Thankful Heart.)

But, reflecting on what you are grateful for all year can change your heart. It can also open your eyes and spark a desire to help those who have less. What if your family took time at the dinner table, before bed or while waiting in the school pick-up or drop-off lines to talk about what you are grateful for? Many times during dinner, we ask our children what the worst moment of the day was and then what the best moment was. It is great to be thankful for not just the good, but also for the challenges that are presented to us.

2. Lead by example

FH Nicaragua - Teaching other women.

I’ve heard other parents say, “I wish my kids wanted to help others more, but how do I make that happen?” Once gratitude has a place in your home, reflect on what matters most to you and pick a service project or event like a charity walk–and bring your kids along!

As a parent, you know that your kids soak up everything you do and say. When they see you serve, the passion you have for what you are doing and the fact that it is a part of your day-to-day life will help instill a desire to serve in them. Plus, it’s an opportunity for quality family time, memories and conversations that may only come up when you’re in those environments.

When my kids were younger, they struggled to understand why I had to fly to different parts of the world for various periods of time for work. Every time I left, I explained that giving isn’t always about monetary donations. Sometimes, it’s about giving of ourselves, our time and our talents to help others. Now, when I leave to catch a flight, they understand that dad is giving back because it is important to help others.

3. Start young and simple

Once your kids begin to grasp the concept of sharing, talk with them about donating old toys to children who have less. As they get a little older, tell them how they can “share a birthday” with someone in need. You can also discuss the possibility of having guests bring donations for charity in lieu of presents.

Food for the Hungry has a catalog of items needed in communities across the globe. Send out the catalog with the party invitation and ask guests to choose something from the catalog in lieu of traditional presents.

As my kids got older, my wife and I gave them each an allotted amount of cash each holiday season. They each picked one item from the catalog to purchase with their money to help others in need. As a parent of three, I cannot fathom the agony of being unable to provide food for my children.

I will never forget the joy I witnessed in Rwanda from a father who had experienced that feeling. He now provides what his family needs because he received the gift of a cow from the Food for the Hungry gift catalog. Because of this, when I look through a gift catalog with my three children, I know the impact our family can have.

Finally, as part of a writing or spelling lesson, write thank you cards with your children. Send them through the mail or deliver them directly to party guests, the mail delivery person, a teacher or a friend. Along the way, explain the why to your children, answering any questions they might ask.

4. Talk openly about thankful hearts

Support their passion. Ask your children what things interest them. Help them research charities in those areas of interest. Talk with your children about what each of the charities does and what needs each charity meets. Allow your children to decide which charities to support.

Take time to talk about the skills that you see within each member of your family. Brainstorm how they can use those skills and strengths to make a difference. For example, my children, have expressed their heart for other children. They most relate to other children. My wife and I connected them with the Food for the Hungry Child Sponsorship program and children’s ministry programs at our church.

5. Put a family giving plan into writing

Sit down as a family with the list of each family member’s chosen charities and action items in hand. Decide how much time and/or money to allot to each charity. From there, get out a calendar and schedule time to do service projects and runs or walks each month, along with a date or dates to make monetary donations to each specific charity each month. By the time you finish, you will have an annual family giving plan. This is a great opportunity to ensure that your family prioritizes giving, even in the midst of a busy schedule. It also helps you teach your children how to manage money.

Other articles you may be interested in:

Six Ways to Share the Spirit of Thanksgiving Year Round

Three Prayers of Thanksgiving