The beginning of a new year is a special time to reflect on family dynamic, while making plans for the coming months ahead. Looking back on the year is always fun, and in our house I like to talk about the things we did for others, including our family, friends and community. The end of the year brings so many conversations about giving and receiving, it’s hard to make the distinction to children, especially when they are young. Life seems to revolve around receiving more often than not!
While the holidays are a great time to open our hearts and at times wallets, I like to stress the act of giving all year round.
Giving is what makes the world go round.
This is why it’s important in this crazy world our children understand just how good it feels to give, instead of receive. I know these little people get so excited to open packages and mail, yet it’s also an opportunity to teach them how good it can feel to give to others. Especially when it’s through an act from the heart, instead of money. 
Recently I started a project with my toddlers that we call the “Surprise Box.” Inside whenever I get an idea of a fun way to surprise someone I write it on a colored paper and add it to the box. This could be something specific for a friend, or something random for people we don’t even know.  For example, bringing coffee to my sister at work, or sending something sweet in the mail to Grandma. Then when someone is having a rough day or a tough time, I pull out the box and declare our intentions to turn the day around. My mom always said growing up, “If you don’t know what to do with your day, help someone.” I hope to pass along this wisdom to my kiddos too. 

If this sounds like something you’d like to start with your family, here is a list of ten different ways to show kindness during any time of the year:

  • Head to the local grocery store and pick up 5-10 single stem flowers. Often times you can find these for $1- or $2 each. Our favorite store has a sale every Tuesday and we often pick up a handful of $1 stems. Then, attach a simple note of thanks with ribbon. Leave these on car windows in your school parking lot to brighten the day of a teacher or school worker. A tip: make sure you pick a warm day!
  • Collect fallen branches or bright blooms and assemble them into whimsical wreaths or bunches. Walk around the neighborhood and leave them on the porch or doors of your neighbors.
  • After organizing your pantry, pull together bits of food odds and ends. Mine is loaded with small snack bags, single servings of fruit and canned goods. Toss these into brown bags and then keep these packages in your car.  Add a small bottle of water to each one and then give out to the homeless you may see around town. My kids are very intrigued at these people who seem to “always be outside” and this is a great way to explain to them about helping those in need. 
  • The next time you take the kids to a coffee shop, show them how to pay-it-forward to the person behind you in line. I used to love doing this pre-kiddo and now it’s just as fun to watch the faces of people when they learn their drink has been paid for by a stranger. 
  • Inevitably, those tiny socks, diapers and bath time toiletries will become a thing of that past. Instead of throwing them away, gather up a big box of items you no longer need and take them to the local woman or children’s shelter. You can find a list of items needed on local non-profit websites, or by visiting the Austin Children’s Shelter.
  • Trucks are a constant fascination in our house. The garbage truck is especially exciting. So, the next time your kids race outside to see these trucks, prepare some thank you treats for the drivers! It could be cookies and hot chocolate, or lemonade and snacks. 
  • I can’t stand having coins floating around my handbag so I’m the type of person that hands back change to cashiers or leaves a small pile for servers and busboys waiting tables. My children also have coins they collect so they contribute too. It may not seem like a lot, but to that person on the other end those little coins can really add up.  
  • Every once in a while my kiddos beg to get breakfast treats or donuts on the way to school. If you have sugar loving little ones, next time, indulge them and agree! But grab enough to share with teachers, bus drivers or carpool friends. It goes a long way – trust me! Plus, your kiddos will feel like rockstars in school that day. 
  • If your kids are anything like mine, then they love to color and draw. Currently my son is really into drawing circle people and rockets. So, instead of letting these pile up on the fridge, turn them into cards and drop them at a nearby senior home. I never realized how happy these silly drawing make others feel, especially the elderly who may not get to see their own grandchildren. 

If this seems like a lot, you don’t have to put all of these into the “Surprise Box.” Maybe you just keep them in your head for a special time of the year or during the holidays. You could also create your own list together over dinner and get the whole family involved. Either way, showing kindness to those around will be sure to trickle down to your little ones and help them see that being kind goes a long way. 

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