Teaching Empathy, Respect, and Compassion over the Holidays

The holidays present a variety of opportunities to teach the social-emotional learning (SEL) skills of empathy, respect, and compassion, through acts of kindness and service to others in the community. Through giving and volunteering, children can develop a greater appreciation and understanding of the realm outside their own world, as well as the diverse needs of others. Not only will volunteering provide a broader perspective of the world, it can also model and teach your family’s values. With all the changes in our world, when children see firsthand how they can make a difference in the world and their community, they can feel empowered and hopeful.

To make the giving or volunteering experience meaningful for your child, start by exploring their interests and what causes they feel passionately about. Once you have an idea of what issues move your child, determine what type of time commitment you want to make—whether it’s a one-time project or a monthly commitment. Here is a list of ideas to get you started, no matter your child’s age:

1) Donating toys. Families can donate new or gently used toys to organizations that serve families in need.
2) Adopt-a-family. Families can help struggling families through holiday adopt-a-family programs, where you provide gifts and food to a family that you are matched with. Children can be involved in selecting presents and filling food baskets for your adopted family.
3) Food banks. Families can work together by starting a canned food drive or volunteering time at a local food bank, where kids can work alongside their parents, sorting food or putting packages together for delivery. This experience provides opportunities to teach children about both hunger and nutrition.
4) Donating baby supplies. Families can donate baby supplies in a variety of ways. There are always numerous organizations that accept supplies, clothes, and toys for children from struggling families. These organizations encourage families to host a donation drive or come to help sort donations for families to pick up.
5) Visit a nursing home. Families can be matched with a person or a group to meet with or check in on regularly. Visiting with the elderly can help develop your child’s compassion for others by witnessing people at a different stage of life.
6) Pet shelters. Families can volunteer their time caring for and exercising animals at local shelters or fostering an animal in their home. Working with animals that have been abandoned provides children the experience to care for creatures that are helpless. Because young children often identify with animals, caring for homeless animals can serve as a conduit for learning perspective.

These opportunities not only teach the values and skills of empathy, respect, and compassion, but they also provide an outlet for greater connection between you and your child. By starting with small projects, children can quickly understand how their small efforts can have a big effect on the lives of others and the world they live in. Serving together is a powerful bonding experience for families and can also encourage a sentiment of teamwork among family members.