PARENTING
12/18/2015 12:46 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

10 Creative Ways to Give Back to Others This Christmas

Christmas is an exciting time of year, especially when you have children. It's so much fun to celebrate the holiday through their eyes and experience the magic of Christmas as a child yourself all over again. Having said this, I also think that with all our joyful celebrations, we easily lose sight of the true meaning of the holiday season.

As much as I love doing things with and for my daughter during Christmas, it's extremely important to me that she understands the season is about more than Santa, gifts and Christmas movies. I've often thought that the holiday season is the perfect opportunity to instill and develop a child's philanthropic mindset while cultivating an attitude of gratitude.

With this in mind, I've come up with a list of 10 things you and your children can do for others to give back during the Christmas season. Finding ways to practice kindness doesn't have to be a major production. Kindness comes in many different shapes, sizes and forms. Here are some ideas to help your children, at any age, understand the true spirit of Christmas so they can apply it in their own lives.

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1. Mail a Christmas card to Safyre. If you haven't read Safyre's story, let me explain. Two years ago, Safyre's family was killed in a house fire that was believed to be arson. She lost her entire family, including her father who used his own body to shield Safyre from the flames. This year for Christmas, the only wish this sweet girl has is to receive Christmas cards from all over the world. How easy is it to either make her a card or pick one up and mail it? Super easy!

Mail your cards to:
Safyre
P.O. Box 6126
Schenectady NY 12306

2. Toys for Tots. I'm a huge fan of the Marine Corps Reserve's annual Toys for Tots toy drive. Every year, we take Maddy to the toy store, let her pick out a gift and then have her donate it to Toys for Tots. I always like to explain to her that not every child is as fortunate as she is, so it's important that we help to give others a nice Christmas. It also helps her to develop a sense of empathy and a heart to serve others.

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3. Leave a homemade treat with a kind note for your mailman in the mailbox. These men and women provide such a thankless service every day, regardless of weather conditions, traffic and more. Let them know you appreciate what they do for you.

4. Spend time with the elderly, especially those who are homebound or in assisted living. Help an elderly neighbor with Christmas decorations, grocery shopping, yard maintenance -- or simply spend some time with them talking and being a companion. This will mean more to them than you will ever know.

5. Be a Dollar Store angel. Leave 10 [or any other desired amount of] $1 bills in random spots in the dollar store. If you're feeling extra kind, leave the little bit extra for tax. Imagine how happy the single mother shopping for her kids will be -- or the child who wants a toy but mommy and daddy are hesitant to buy one because of their tight budget. It sounds like so little to some of us, but it makes such a HUGE difference in the lives of others who really need it.

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6. Remember children in the hospital or in hospice care. Make small gift baskets for kids who are in the hospital, and deliver them with your children.

7. Be kind to someone you dislike. Our children are always watching and listening. What do you think they see and hear when they look at you?

8. Cleanout! Use this time of the year to collect your child's old books that they no longer read and donate them to a children's center, shelter or local library. You can also do this with clothing, shoes and other necessities.

9. Donate your time to new or exhausted parents. Offer your time to stressed or tired parents for free babysitting. Bring your own kids along as playmates and helpers! Imagine being a new parent and having the chance to get out for a few hours to do a little (peaceful) Christmas shopping, have a quiet coffee break or simply get some very necessary errands done. This basic act of kindness means so much to parents who desperately need a break.

10. Donate the spare change in your car to the Salvation Army bell-ringers. We all have ungodly amounts of change lying around, especially in our cars. Put those coins to good use and donate them! Grab a few coins every time you come across a bell-ringer and toss them into the bucket. It may seem like very little, but all that money adds up quickly.

These are just a few ideas to get you started, and really, this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many things we can do to help spread kindness and joy to others during the holiday season. What ideas do you have to share? I would love to hear them!