9 Ways Families Can Help During Natural Disasters

We all want to raise children to be smart and strong, funny and kind. But what about deep compassion? Compassion that goes beyond helping a friend up off the playground?

With birthdays and holidays it's easy to view giving through a lense of consumerism. "Giving" and "getting" can become for children (and adults!) all about the latest gadget, or what we feel we "deserve." It's important to refocus and redefine "gift giving" to helping those truly in need, sometimes outside our daily frame of reference. Even small efforts can make a difference, and set an example for children who will grow to see a need and fill it.

One thing to consider as a family is disaster relief. Obviously, natural disasters are going on around us all the time. And it's easy to feel helpless, especially if you watch the news for any length of time. But whether you have little kids or teenagers, all ages can get involved, all skill levels can have a hand in helping. We've pulled together five easy ideas to get your family thinking globally and to get their compassionate juices flowing. (Added bonus: your kids just may be nicer to each other as they begin to look around them at others in need!)

Ways Your Family Can Help During Natural Disasters

  1. Raise Awareness (at Home). Children, especially small ones, have no idea of what's going on past their front doors. You as parents get to allow them into the world of helping (past taking their plates to the sink), but you also get to filter the gross amounts of information so what they are introduced to is appropriate to their small hearts and minds. When a disaster strikes and you're ready to get your kids involved, or if they're bringing home tidbits from the school bus, sit down as a family over dinner and talk about what they know. Let them ask all the questions, and do your best to answer truthfully without frightening them or giving them more than they can handle. Older kids will be more tuned in to their worlds, while younger ones will look to you for all their information. Talk, talk, talk. Then introduce the idea of your family helping.

  2. Map It. If the disaster is near where you live, the kids may have an idea of where it is. But if not, pull out a map of the U.S. or the world and show them just where the disaster has occurred. Place a push pin at the location, then look up information about that part of the country or world.

  3. Brainstorm. You may be surprised at your kids! Once they find out there are other kids in the world or nearby who don't have a home, food, or a bed, they may drag down their extra pillows and want to send them. Encourage that compassion, and then redirect it. Ask: what can WE do? What is helpful to their families? What would WE want if we were in that situation? (Bonus: this is an excellent way to teach empathy!)

  4. Raise Money. Your kids may want to ship off their extra shoes and socks, but sending money is far better, according to charitynavigator.org. Talk to your kids about how you can raise money as a family. Maybe they can take some out of their piggy banks or use some of their Christmas money from Grandma. If they're out of cash, could they sell some of their belongings? (Think Craigslist, Ebay, Facebook Marketplace.) Challenge them to dig through their closets and toy boxes (don't forget the garage!), and continue the conversation about what the families you're trying to help have in comparison to what you have, and how you can bridge that gap. (What a gift you're giving to your kids to get them looking past themselves.) And don't forget other money-making options: dog-sitting or walking, babysitting, etc. Brainstorm here, too!

  5. Give. Once you have a decent amount of money pooled, check out give.org for all kinds of donating options, check out your favorite charity's website (American Red Cross and Samaritan's Purse are a couple reputable organizations on the frontlines doing excellent work in the world, if you need a suggestion.), or go to your local church (who may already have donation sites set up.)

  6. Host an Event. If you've got older kids or are feeling more ambitious, consider hosting an event. Organizations like Bridging in Roseville, MN allows groups to host an Essentials Drive at a local church or public space to collect kitchen tools and bedding for people in need of disaster relief. Even a simple bake sell at your local school or church can bring in hundreds of dollars!

  7. Go. If you're able and wanting to get your hands dirty, check out Volunteermatch.org which has filters to search for volunteer opportunities for kids, Samaritanspurse.org, or the American Red Cross volunteer match. Each will direct you to nearby opportunities and allow you to register to volunteer.

  8. Give Blood. This is an option for the 17-year-old or older in your house. (Some states allow 16-year-olds to donate with parental consent.)

  9. Pray. In the face of natural disasters, we often feel hopeless and helpless. But we never truly are. If your family is one of faith, even marginally, you can at the least collect around the table, light a candle or two, and pray for the victims of tragedy. It may seem small, but it isn't, and it's empowering your children, too.

Here are a few other opportunities for volunteering that are ongoing, especially around the holidays (get thinking for next year!): Operation Christmas Child (a Christmastime box-filling activity to send gifts to those in need across the world, Feed My Starving Children (locations you go to to pack meals for hunger in the third word), and Salvation Army bell-ringing (yes, you!)

Volunteering is an amazing way to engage your children in the world and to teach them to think, act, and love beyond themselves. Kudos to you for wanting to expand your children's worldview. You will not be disappointed, and our world will be a better place because of your children.

(Thank you in advance.)