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Source: Chuck Smith, 785-532-1946,
News release prepared by: Katie Mayes, 785-532-6415,

Monday, Nov. 9, 2009

Holiday help:

MANHATTAN -- Though Thanksgiving isn't the only time children should be thankful, Kansas State University child development expert Chuck Smith says the annual holiday is the perfect time for families to stress the concept's importance.

"Thanksgiving is a time for parents to be thinking about to what extent do they show appreciation to their child," Smith said. "If you want the child to do something, you have to show the child your capacity for the behavior. They need to not only hear it, but see people they care about performing that behavior."

In a society where most parents work full-time and take on harried schedules besides, modeling appreciation and thankfulness might not be at the top of the less-than-perfect parents' to-do list.

Smith said the holidays are a good time to focus on positive behaviors because they present some special opportunities to talk about compassion for others and to reach out to those in need.

"What you are trying to do is build conscience," Smith said. "With conscience, it is not just telling the child what's right or wrong. Conscience deals with the motivation to do the right thing, particularly when it's difficult."

Smith suggested three activities to help parents teach children about compassion and thankfulness.

The first is to donating food to the local food pantry. Smith said making an afternoon out of scouring the shelves at the grocery store for food for the less fortunate can provide children with a lesson in diet and caring for others. The parent and child should make a list of the foods to get. At the store, the child should be the one to choose which items to buy, Smith said. The parent is there to guide them through the process and to talk about how the people receiving the food will benefit.

"For example, you talk about how that soup could be really good for someone who doesn't have food," Smith said.

When the family takes the food to the pantry the child should be the one to hand deliver it, with the parents there to provide support, Smith said.

"Then, at dinner that night, talk about what you did that day," he said. "Say, 'Maybe, just maybe, there is someone who is eating the food we brought today.'" "The parent's role is to help the child imagine the pleasure of cooking and eating that food."

Smith said asking the child to imagine how others feel will help the child to make an emotional connection, which will make the lesson of caring for others stick.

The second activity is donating used toys or games to a local women's shelter or emergency shelter instead of selling them. Whether parents are getting ready for a garage sale or are weeding out the toys their child doesn't play with anymore, this is the perfect opportunity to involve the child in making decisions about what others might like to be given, Smith said.

Smith said that items to be donated should be in good condition and games should have all of their pieces.

"After the toys are chosen and delivered, parents can talk to their children about the child who is now playing with this toy who might not have had any other toys," Smith said.

The third activity is to make drawings for children who are in the hospital or for deployed soldiers. Holidays away from home and family can be particularly difficult for those who are sick or who are deployed. A heartfelt picture from a child can deliver a much-needed emotional boost, Smith said.

"Parents should talk about what soldiers, for example, might be feeling being so far from their family and friends," Smith said. "They can then say, 'Let's draw them something to thank them for their service.'"

This not only gets children thinking about the sacrifices made by others, by also gets them to consider what sorts of things they can do to help make that person's life a little bit brighter.

Smith said that most hospitals will have nurses who can coordinate the art's distribution. For soldiers, Smith suggests contacting the chaplain for the local National Guard. This activity also could be done with other families, you’re your church or other groups, Smith said.

The key in all three of these activities, Smith said, is to take action. He said it's common for parents to talk about the difficulties and sacrifices made by others, but not do anything about them. The action step, however, is critical for children to buy in to the concept.

"It's not about just talking about starving kids in Africa, but it's the doing something that is the important piece," Smith said. "So, let's do something about families in our community who might need a little bit of help."

Teaching kids about what it means to show compassion to others and to be thankful for what they have is a part of developing their conscience, Smith said. "The child is developing his own code, his own sense of true north, and they get that from their parents," he said.