The holidays are the perfect time to educate our children on being grateful and giving back. How do we get our children to appreciate what they have instead of frowning over what they don’t have? How do we help them understand the concept of helping those less fortunate than them?
It’s easy to tell our children the ever so famous line that our parents fed us in response to either not finishing dinner or complaining about what was served. “There are people starving in this world you know.” Children who don’t have a visual to accompany this statement may find it hard to believe that to be true. I know my children’s definition of hunger is ten minutes without a snack in their hands. In regard to the above statement, they actually don’t know. They can easily satisfy their grumbling bellies by walking in the pantry, digging through Mommy‘s diaper bag, or asking Mommy to head to the supermarket. Whether it’s about mealtime or not having the latest and greatest toy, I tell them to be positive and concentrate on what they do have, not what they don’t have. If they are always complaining about what they don’t have, they will never be satisfied, and won’t ever enjoy what they do have.. As you know, this logic doesn’t exist in a child’s mind so I needed to think of another approach to get through to them. I decided to help them understand this concept by personalizing the famous statement, and many others I use on a regular basis. My plan was to make them understand by showing them, that there are people, right in our own city, who are hungry, homeless and in need of our help.
Growing up in New York, I saw many homeless people on the streets of Manhattan. Saddened by this, I always told myself when I was older that if I was able to make a difference, I would. Whether it was buying an extra bagel in the morning or giving away my leftovers upon leaving a restaurant, I hoped I was able to prevent someone from going hungry, even if it was just for a few hours. Now that I have children, I want them to understand that not everyone lives the way they do. I especially want them to understand that it’s not just adults that are affected but children as well. I now reside in Tampa and we see many folks at major intersections, with signs that read anywhere from, “Homeless, anything will help”, to “Dad of three laid off & can’t find work”, to simply, “Hungry”. While most people choose to look the other way, I decided to use this opportunity as a learning lesson for my children.
At one major intersection in particular, we always see the same homeless man, and since I always carry lots of snacks for the kids, I thought I would open my window and share whatever I might have that day, i.e. a banana, apple, pretzels, etc. I prefer not to give cash but if that is all I have, I will gather up some change. This man started to recognize my car and became excited when he saw us. If I was able to create a happy moment in his life, I had accomplished my goal. One day when I was stopped at a light, I decided to ask his name, which was Mark. Now when we know we are headed in his direction, we always make sure to bring Mark something to eat. If we are passing through a green light and are unable to stop, we always wave to Mark, which puts a smile on both is face and ours. I remember one time I gave Mark some change and he said, “Thank you so much. Now I can finally have something to eat today”, and he quickly walked over to the local fast food restaurant on the corner. I told my children that because of our donation to Mark, he was able to have a meal. They then asked what he would do for dinner and I knew that was my opportunity to talk about how important it is to appreciate what we have and not to waste food. “When you complain you don’t want to eat something or don’t want to finish your dinner, remember Mark and how much he would love to be eating your meal”. A few nights ago, I had to tell my four year old once again that there are starving people in the world who would love to finish his broccoli and steak, and his response was, “Like Mark”? I responded with, “Yes, exactly like Mark”. I was glad that my son understood what I was trying to teach him and was proud of him as he then finished his entire dinner . Establishing this relationship with Mark has caused my children to associate a real person with hunger and homelessness, allowing them to really understand that not everyone is as lucky as them and how important it is to help others in need.
As I waited for a light to turn green a few weeks back, there was a young man holding up a sign that he was hungry, homeless, and in need of help. Everyone was ignoring him, scrolling through their phones or listening to their radios. I looked down to get a drink of water and noticed 50 cents on my console. I knew it wasn’t much to me, but to this young man, it might just be the difference of him eating or starving today. I honked my horn, rolled down my window and gave him the change. He was so thankful, smiled and walked away. All of the sudden, other cars started rolling down their windows and offering their change. It was really amazing to see. The next time you encounter someone who is in need of help, think twice before you walk away. You just may be a role model for others to follow in your footsteps.
I want to end the article by saying I do not suggest you open your window and talk with every homeless person you encounter. Just like any stranger, a homeless person can be mentally ill, unstable and unpredictable, so of course safety is always first. I also do not suggest you tell your child to approach any homeless person without your presence. Our number one priority as parents is keeping our children safe and out of harm’s way. I think it’s important as well to let our children know that there are many ways to help others less fortunate, including donating old clothing, picking a charity together, volunteering at a local soup kitchen, etc. This article is to inspire you and your family to help someone in need this holiday and any day that you can. What a wonderful message to teach your children!
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Wishing you all a very happy holiday season!