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Parents Can Teach Kids Giving Is Better Than Getting

Ami Neiberger

Dan Perkins (352) 392-2201
John Rutledge (352) 846-1003

GAINESVILLE-“Getting” isn’t the top priority for a lot of kids this holiday season.

“Everyone worries about what they will get for Christmas, but I’ve learned that giving is sometimes better than getting,” said Amanda Barnard, 12, of Gainesville. “You realize through service projects that some people don’t have things and you appreciate what you have.”

And Barnard’s not alone. “I clean out my toy box before Christmas and we give the toys to kids who don’t have any,” said Brandy Draper, 12, of Bunnell. With her sister Dezerea, 11, and brother Austin, 7, Draper gives toys to needy children through the United Way.

A lot of parents worry about the commercialization of the holidays. “If parents focus on the opportunity to give and serve during the holidays, then the getting will take a back seat,” said Dan Perkins, a youth development researcher at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Brandy’s mom, Nicole, says they’ve cleaned out their toy boxes for a few years. “I try to teach them to give instead of worrying about what they are going to get for Christmas.” Draper says she wants her children to understand how those in need feel, so they adopted an “angel” this year, a needy child, and her children helped pick out a present.

“It’s very important that we do this as a family,” said Draper, who involves her children in volunteer activities throughout the year. “We were involved in a food drive for Thanksgiving and are doing another for the Christmas holidays with the Flagler County 4-H program.” The food drives are part of a youth-initiated service project, Are You Into It? 4-Hers Helping the Hungry.

Youth benefit from participating in volunteer activities.

“Volunteering is an opportunity for youth to feel useful,” said Perkins. “By giving them an opportunity to contribute, you are giving them an opportunity to understand their world and themselves better.”

“Research has found that community service modestly increases social responsibility and a sense of personal competence,” said Perkins. “Some research suggests that service during youth helps shape political activity, moral interests and a sense of identity in relationship to the political process.”

Service also can build cross-generational understanding.

“Service creates youth-adult partnerships, which benefit the community,” said John Rutledge, 4-H youth development specialist in the UF department of family, youth and community sciences. “It helps youth look at adults in a different way, not just as rule-makers. It also helps that community realize that youth are much more than the negative images they see in the newspaper.”

Parents and kids agree it can be difficult to make time for volunteering, but they say service offers lessons worth learning. “It comes down to priorities and what you want to teach your children. You have to stop and take the time,” said Draper.

“If everyone was busy and thought that way, then who would help?” said Amanda Barnard. Her sentiments are echoed by her mother Elna Barnard. “If you want to raise children who are productive citizens, then you do service activities. If you care about our country and its future, service is a major part of our involvement. It begins with us,” she said.

How can parents teach their kids the value of service?

“If you want for service to have a lasting impact on your kids, then you need to go a step beyond dropping off the food for the canned food drive,” said Rutledge. “Putting the human face on poverty by meeting someone who is in need, a kid who is homeless, makes volunteering more concrete for kids.”

That’s exactly what Amanda Barnard did. She visited St. Francis House soup kitchen recently with Alachua County 4-Hers dropping off food drive donations, and said she enjoyed meeting the people. “I liked seeing their expressions and how grateful they are for the help.”

Parents can tailor volunteer activities to meet their family’s interest. For nearly any interest, there’s an opportunity to serve that captures it, said Rutledge. Some examples: Grow food in your family garden, visit a shut-in or an elderly person, give used games to needy kids, clean up a park or work to support community agencies and organizations.

He advises families to talk to volunteer agencies about their needs. “A lot of agencies have plenty of volunteers and donations over the holidays but don’t have enough the rest of the year,” said Rutledge.

Prepare your kids before you take them to the activity. Rutledge said kids can be brutally honest and parents will want to prepare children, especially if they are younger, for what they will see at a place such as a soup kitchen. Having a child point at someone who is homeless and say they smell can be embarrassing.

After the activity, reflection on the experience is important. Intentional preparation and reflection enables young people to view the world from another perspective, said Perkins. He suggests parents read a story book or watch a video about an issue their family is interested in.

“Parents can schedule time after the experience for children to jot down some thoughts or if they are young, they can draw pictures. Then have a family discussion about it,” Perkins said.

Teaching children about giving extends beyond weekend volunteering, all the way to the family holiday gift exchange. “Parents should remember to encourage the thought of giving and not the gift,” said Perkins. “Their own reaction on Christmas morning is very important.”

The holidays aren’t the only time of year to volunteer. “The things we’re involved in over the holidays are the things we’re involved in all the time,” said Elna Barnard.

Sustained involvement is what parents should be encouraging, says Michael McCabe, vice president of programs for Youth Service America, which coordinates National Youth Service Day. He suggests families put service dates on their calendar. “There are seasons of service,” McCabe said. “Serving together is a great way to build the glue that keeps a family together.”

High Resolution Photo Available: Holiday Helpers Learn Lasting Lessons Austin Draper (left), 7, with his sisters Dezerea, 11 and Brandy, 12 of Bunnell, Fla. sort food from their 4-H canned food drive in the Flagler County Salvation Army food bank. Their mother, Nicole Draper says she hopes they learn the value of giving to others through year-round volunteer activities. UF/IFAS photo by Tom Wright.

Check out Florida 4-H Online!


Websites with Information on Service Opportunities
4-H “Are You Into It?”
4-H Youth Voices in Action, A Volunteer Program for Kids Who Care America’s Promise: The Alliance for Youth
Do Something
Kids Can Make A Difference
Nickelodeon’s Big Help
Points of Light Foundation
President’s Students Service Scholarship
The Search Institute
USA Weekend Make a Difference Day