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Lucille O'Neal Headshot

Giving Back: A Valuable Holiday Lesson for Kids

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The chill in the air and the decorations crowding the aisles of every store in town are just a couple signs that the holiday season is in full tilt. If you're like me, you're already busy making your list and checking it twice, marking down holiday engagements on your calendar and figuring out when you're going to bake those cookies for the neighborhood party.

As hectic as the season is, I would urge everyone, especially parents of children and teens, to make time for one more commitment: giving back. Most of us are familiar with the obvious, "feel good" benefits of giving back, but I'd argue there are just as many practical benefits for children and families.

Young people who perform volunteer work not only help others, research shows they do better in school, too. Today, more than ever, it's so important that we build supportive family and community ties and give our kids the character-building experiences that will help them grow up to lead fulfilling, successful lives. Now is the perfect time to reinforce the value of giving back for our children -- a value that can be practiced during the holidays and beyond.

When our kids were growing up, their father and I often encouraged them to participate in community service projects on the weekends. We didn't just send the kids out to volunteer, though -- we all did it together. As a result, we all grew together, strengthening both our family bonds and our ties to our community.

Our children learned the value of sharing with others early in life. As a young girl, I was taught the Golden Rule, which tells us to treat others as we would like to be treated. It's a principle that still guides me today, and one that I passed on to my kids. Whether we were serving meals to homeless people, gathering toys for children or providing service to senior citizens, the only encouragement my children ever needed was a gentle reminder of the Golden Rule. If the tables were turned, would we want others to help us?

There were, indeed, times when I've been on the other side of the table. The many people who have helped me and my family when we needed it inspire and encourage me to reach out to others and do the same. And right now, there are so many in need. Thinking of children alone, some 20 percent in the United States live in poverty. We also know our kids are facing a high school dropout crisis and there are a multitude of ways, from drugs to youth violence, that they can get derailed from the right path as they grow older.

That's why I'm working with Boys & Girls Clubs of America this holiday season to encourage parents to teach their children about the value of giving, whether it's through donations or volunteer service. There are so many ways to share this important value with your kids, and you can find helpful tips from me, other parents and even kids themselves at http://www.greatfutures.org/holiday.

While we taught our children about the Golden Rule and giving back, they also heard these messages at the Boys & Girls Club. In the Club, they had many opportunities to participate in volunteer projects and get involved in the community. And, as they learned about service, they also learned that they could be role models for others.

My oldest son, Shaquille, has given tremendously over the last 20 years to many causes. Between them, my younger children volunteer as youth sports coaches, classroom mothers and mentors to children and teens, as well as helping our local church's efforts to address childhood hunger. I feel a great sense of pride seeing how they continue to embrace the values we taught them as children.

As you're making your schedule and checking the presents off your list this year, I hope you'll take time to give your children a most important gift -- the gift of giving.

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