Right now, my kids are yanking pages out of the Henry Bear’s Park catalogue, circling things on Amazon, searching for bizarre SpongeBob SquarePants Nintendo games and have even located an Etsy shop in Germany that specializes in guinea pig neckties. They’re all in for the holidays this year—and I can’t blame them. Last year was a washout.

But yes, it’s also incumbent on me as a parent who hopes to raise caring, generous-minded individuals to remind them that this is the season of giving. Not every child has the privilege of making a wish list filled with rodent ephemera.

That said, I’m finding it tough to weave charity into their daily lives lately. They agreeably weed through old toys to donate, and I help my fifth grader set aside money from his allowance to donate to a charity of his choice each month through his Greenlight card. But it always feels like a one-off, a mad dash to round up old clothes and dusty board games (or to argue with him about whether he even deserves an allowance). They even had a nursing home pen-pal for a while—but then the nursing home was stricken with a sweeping COVID outbreak, and the whole effort fizzled.

I do try to model volunteerism for them: I volunteer for my town’s anti-hunger organization, Arlington EATS, and I’m in the Friend 2 Friend program for Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Boston. But really: They are kids who enjoy their creature comforts, and my attempts at community involvement aren’t really on their radar.

Can you relate? Do you have nice, well-meaning children who are stuck in their ways? For Giving Tuesday, which happens to fall smack in the middle of Hanukkah, I’ve come up with a few ideas:

  • Start at home. They’re going to pick one area of the house that they’re responsible for, whether it’s always clearing the plates after dinner (Andy) or always putting toys back in bins (Pete). They’re giving themselves—and me—the gift of a clean house, and remembering that they’re a part of community, even if we can’t vote them out for bad behavior.
  • Reach out to neighbors. So often we think philanthropy or charity is about a grand gesture, but it can be subtle, too. We have several elderly neighbors. I’m going to ask Andy if he’d like to bake brownies or offer to rake for the woman who lives alone next door, whose house he usually obliviously meanders past with his backpack swinging from his arm.
  • Focus their interests. I’m also going to ask both of them to pinpoint two areas they really care about: Animals? (They love pandas. And guinea pigs. And corgis.) Kids? The environment? Then we’re going to find two charities to follow and support. Right now, we get so much information about so many good causes, but they don’t feel a strong connection to any which one.
  • Honor the past. I’d love to start a scholarship in my mom’s name, and I want my kids to be my unofficial advisors on what Nana would want and like: I’m thinking probably a high school scholarship to a kid who demonstrates courage in the face of premature illness (my mom was diagnosed with mixed-connective tissue disease in her mid-20s but lasted 50-plus years).

With each of these noble (and hopefully not doomed to fail!) ideas, I’m trying to make sure the spirit of Giving Tuesday can be part of their outlook every day, not just on one lone Tuesday in November. And, hopefully, by offering them sustainable options for giving back, they can flex their charitable muscles—and not just their video-game ones.