Thinking About Storm Sandy at a Family Meeting

Dear Sharon,

With so many of our neighbors all around New York reeling from the effects of “Sandy” my husband and I were talking last night about how we can help others during this time. Do you have any suggestions as to how we can tell our two kids, ages 7 & 9 of our decision to pare down our own holiday cheer, gift giving and celebrations and find a way to share what we have with families less fortunate and less stable? What’s the best way to make them understand and/or feel that they are part of the decision process too? It’s important for us to have our kids raised with the understanding and commitment to being a part of community.

Dear Parents,

I am sure that many New Yorkers have felt your concern for their neighbors during the holidays, myself included. I think it is very possible to involve children in being part of their broader communities. 7 and 9 year olds usually know a lot about community and are often interested in learning more. Many younger children are also eager to help others in need.

I sometimes suggest that families conduct a meeting to talk through important topics to help involve children in the decision making process. If this idea appeals to your family here are a few guidelines that can help the discussion go well.

To increase efficiency one parent ideally should lead the meeting and explain why everyone is getting together to talk. (In this case the hurricane and thoughts about what the family can do to help).

I often suggest that the youngest child speaks first and the oldest last. The leader explains that during the talk no one can interrupt or “poke fun” at anyone else’s thoughts. (Even a little one’s turn that might be “off topic” should be treated respectfully.) These ideas can help keep things fair and “on track.”

Depending on how much your family has taken time to process the storm and its aftermath some possibilities for this meeting might be, “What do you think happened during and right after “Sandy?” “What do you think is going on for people now?” “Do you have an idea of what our family has done or could do to help?”

Listening to your children’s thoughts and proposals first can make it easier for them to hear yours – the decision to donate a portion of traditional holiday expenses to relief efforts. More discussion can of course follow but if the meeting goes well everyone will have had the opportunity to offer their input and follow-up meetings can take place as well.

A gathering like this might not work for your family but there are many ways to involve children in the larger community right now without it.

Finding opportunities for your family to contribute money or “people power” now can help everyone discuss and ultimately understand any changes in holiday spending.

I am sure that many New Yorkers have stories of children doing things to assist Sandy victims. I know of young ones who have decided to sort their toys to gather ones to donate, sent homemade cards to shelter residents, held bake and lemonade sales to raise relief funds, gathered debris in parks and helped out with collection and cooking projects that were part of their neighborhood’s involvement.

As relief work is ongoing and services such a broad geographic area there are many places to offer assistance even if you don’t live in a highly affected zone. An inquiry at your church, synagogue, school, park or library is a place to start if an Internet search doesn’t provide enough ideas.

Ideally parents model generosity and care for others on an ongoing basis, but events like “Sandy” give everyone in a family the “unfortunate” opportunity to put their values into practice. Doing so can bring everyone closer to their community and to each other. Thanks for your wonderful question and happy holidays!