British Columbia·Point of View

The gift of giving back: Keeping the Christmas spirit alive with your kids

As kids write their lists to Santa, it's important to remember those in need. But once the Christmas tree is packed away, how can we help teach our kids to keep that spirit alive?

'Tis the season to help others — but what about the rest of the year?

Serafina and Aden Bhayani volunteer at a Vancouver community centre. They've grown up watching their parents volunteer and now actively take part. (Cinnamon Bhayani)

This story is part of Amy Bell's column Parental Guidance that airs on CBC Radio One's The Early Edition.

It's been said that it's better to give than to receive, but, if you have kids, you know that Christmas can sometimes turn into a time of getting as much as possible — and nothing else!

With visions of sugar plums — and the latest in tech gadgets and gaming systems — dancing in their heads, how do we make sure our kids know that helping others is important, not just during the holiday season, but throughout the year? 

Cinnamon Bhayani is a Vancouver mom whose two young children are frequently seen at various volunteer outings alongside her and her husband. She says they've grown up watching their parents help others and now see it as a way of life — rather than something special. 

"It's just like you have to go to swimming lessons. We have to do our community work," says Cinnamon. "It's what the kids want to do ... it teaches them compassion and it feels good for everybody." 

'It becomes part of who they are'

Rowena Pinto, the chief program officer for Unicef Canada, echoes how much children can learn from helping others.  

"When they're introduced to the concept of giving, or to giving up something so that someone else might get something, it becomes contagious. It becomes part of who they are." 

And it's not just the immediate effects that can benefit kids and those in need — giving back and helping out when they're young can have life long benefits. Just ask Vancouver dad Cam Sylvester.  

Sylvester works with Latitude Global Volunteering —an organization which helps teenagers and young adults travel around the world to volunteer on a global scale.

Sylvester says that to have socially responsible adults, you have to set them on the right path as soon as possible. By showing them that life isn't always fair — and that they can make a difference with their actions — you can set children up for a lifetime of making change. 

"That there are perhaps structural changes that need to happen here to make the world a fairer place," says Sylvester, "Rather than just trying to deal with it in a Band-Aid way."

The holidays can be a time of excess and consumerism, but it can also be a time to jump-start your child's sense of charity. Find out what causes your children are interested in and then incorporate volunteering into your plans for the rest of the year.

Of course you can still make sure your children have a special present to open on Christmas Day — but in all the madness of the season, remember that teaching our children to be kind and giving — and to take care of those around them — is possibly one of the best gifts a parent can give. 

About the Author

Amy Bell is a digital contributor to CBC. She can be heard weekdays on The Early Edition as the traffic and weather reporter and parenting columnist.

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