THE BLOG
11/18/2010 05:57 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

It's the Holiday Season: Turning the 'Gimmes' Into Giving and Having 'Good Fun'

Holiday season is upon us, and what is meant to be a time of family connections can turn into a time of family divisiveness, especially when children get a case of the gimmes.

I know what a case of the gimmes feels like because my children were known to have this malady--their lists of what they wanted for the holidays seemed insatiable--as if they were empty wells that needed continual filling. And it wasn't as if they said, "Here is the gift I want" -- it was, "Here are the gifts (a long list) I NEED." I always wondered why these NEEDS just happened to be the toys that their friends had or the toys that were being widely advertised. And even though my kids didn't watch a lot of television, they seemed to know the toys of the moment anyway.

As a survival tactic and in keeping with our family values, my husband and I decided to try to turn the gimmes into giving as our children entered their school-age years. When holiday season approached, we would set aside some money for each of our children and ask them to select a charity they wanted to give to. We gave them a list of possible options, but they could look further. They had to research these charities and decide where they wanted to donate their money. We suggested they select charities whose causes aligned with their interests and where they might want to get involved. In addition, as a family we selected a charity where we could get involved by volunteering, such as cooking for people who were home-bound. So yes, my children got some (okay, sometimes more than "some") of the presents on their lists, but they also learned that the holidays can be a time of giving gifts, not just receiving them.

The other day in the mail I received a wonderful gift. It was from Darell Hammond, the visionary CEO of KaBOOM!, the group that has helped bring playgrounds to children around the country. In keeping with Hammond's passionate commitment to "saving play" because it's declining in America, he want to share this book with friends and colleagues.

This book is called The Good Fun Book by Karen Duncan, the wife of the Secretary of Education, and Kate Hannigan Issa. It is a gift in the real sense of the word because it can help us turn the gimmes into giving; it serves as an antidote for extravagant children's parties; and at the same time it really provides lots of "good fun" for kids and adults.

For each month of the year, the authors suggest activities where kids can give to others, can make things, and can find out about real people who have created efforts to do good. Take February--children are inspired to have a Valentine's Day party where they make Valentine's Day cards for children in local hospitals and make care boxes for children at local crisis centers or shelters. In addition, there is an easy-to-follow recipe for Valentine's Day cookies and directions for heart-themed picture frames they decorate and take home. And they can read about two people who made a difference--Matt Flannery and Jessica Jackley. After visiting Africa and seeing many people in dire need, Flannery and Jackley created Kiva, a micro-lending website where children and adults can select struggling entrepreneurs and lend them some money for their business ideas, such as a banana seller in Uganda who wants to build a house. These are loans, and thus are repaid--so if your child lends $25 dollars, he or she will get it back and can reinvest it in someone else.

My children are grown up now. And although it is consistent with their generational values, I also don't think it is an accident that each is committed to making the world a better place. My son Philip, a musician who founded and directs Samba New York! spends some of his time bringing music to young people who wouldn't otherwise learn to play instruments and perform. And my daughter Lara works for Echoing Green. Since 1987, Echoing Green has provided seed funding to close to 500 social entrepreneurs around the globe with bold ideas of their own for how to make the world a better place.

Just think--with a book like The Good Fun Book--we can give children a tremendous gift that, in the proverbial sense, keeps on giving and we can minimize the holiday gimmes too!