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Monday Mom challenge: Give the gift of charity

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

Letting kids choose charities

The commercialism of the holiday season bothers me more and more each year. Maybe I'm just a scrooge on some level, but parts of me wants to hide for most of December in an effort to avoid the extreme commercialism. The other part of me, however, wants to make it a great holiday for my kids.

Gift Certificate

Somewhere in the middle of all this is my desire to keep the concept of charity near the forefront of our holiday celebrations. We are extremely fortunate. While I don't want this to induce holiday guilt, I do want my kids to be aware of it - and give back.

Giving as a gift in the abstract...

Plenty of worthy charities offer ways to give a gift in someone's name for the holidays. We've done this and we've been the ones honored by such a donation. It's a great way to promote a higher meaning to the season, especially among grown ups who have no need of more stuff. It's a way to give charitably that I enjoy all year long, in fact.

The trouble is, for kids, it's rather abstract. As they are not involved in the decision, it's like there's no real gift at all. It doesn't mean so much to them.

...and a little more concrete

To this end, my husband and I started a holiday tradition of allocating a certain amount of money for each child to give to a charity of their choice. That amount of money is one of our kids' gifts under the tree or in the stocking on Christmas morning in the form of a homemade gift certificate. The first time we did this, the kids were confused. Once we explained, however, they were enthusiastic.

In the several days after Christmas, my kids did some research as to the charities to which they would like to give the money. It was interesting to watch how each of them started the process. With my oldest, the decision was fairly quick: he chose to give to the hospital that saved his life several years ago. With my middle child, the decision took longer. Over several days he went down several different paths, searching the Internet for different causes before finally settling on a wildlife conservation group. My daughter, the youngest, needed more help; she just knew she wanted to give money to giraffes.

I think the kids really understand charitable giving with this exercise. There's a difference when they feel like they have a stake in it, like they are part of the process. While it doesn't totally counteract the gimme, gimme, gimme of the season, it does help. We intend to make this an annual part of our Christmas giving to the kids.

Tell us: How do you teach your children charity during the holidays? Comment below!

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