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This article originally appeared in the Dec. 27, 2012, edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Holidays inspire many people to give to others who are less fortunate. This is a wonderful lesson for children to learn, but what about the other 11 months of the year?

Many families make a New Year’s resolution to give generously to others throughout the year. Giving to others doesn’t require a lot of money; giving of your time and talents can have just as much impact and may be more feasible for families during these tough economic times.

There are many reasons for families and children to lend a helping hand. Children feel more involved in their community when they are able to actively help strengthen their neighborhood and bond with the people who live there. Families that help others feel closer to one another.

Children benefit greatly from volunteering to help others. Volunteering can help children build self-esteem by making others feel better and not worse. Volunteer efforts teach children that one person can make a difference and to have a sense of responsibility for themselves and their community.

Certainly there are wonderful benefits to volunteering, but how can a family get involved? Parents should consider their children’s age and abilities when researching volunteer opportunities. There are thousands of organizations that rely on volunteer help but not all jobs are appropriate for a young child’s skill level. Young children might choose to make holiday cards or help bake cookies for elderly neighbors or pick up trash at a park or playground. They can also donate their gently used toys to other children in need.

When considering where to get involved, families can look at their own interests and talents. Does the family have a particular interest in animals? Are your children comfortable chatting with older people who might need company? Does the family love to be outdoors? There are countless volunteer opportunities available, and children will be more engaged if they are able to help in an area that holds a particular interest for them.

Organizations like Volunteer Match can help families find opportunities to volunteer in their community, but volunteer opportunities exist almost everywhere. Parents can talk to their children about what interests them and determine the best ways to make a difference.

The holidays are a wonderful time to get families thinking about helping others, but people are in need all 12 months out of the year. Beginning a tradition of helping others in this New Year will help your family feel more connected to each other and your community.

Dr. Bob Wilmott is Chief of Pediatrics at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center and is IMMUNO Professor and Chair  of the Department of Pediatrics at Saint Louis University.  If you have a question about your child’s health, go to the “Ask Dr. Bob” section of the Cardinal Glennon Web site at

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