operation christmas child

5 Ways Giving Helps Kids Feel Less Stressed

The night before the first day of school is always filled with jitters. As a kid, I never could sleep. It’s the same for my kids, but this year was intense. Car line procedures changed, there are now temperature checkpoints, and we couldn’t walk them to class. All of this had us on edge. Add in keeping track of masks, minimizing germ exposure, and—oh, yeah—they are supposed to be learning! Our anxiety levels were palpable.

Every day in 2020 seems to present new challenges like sanitizing backpacks, logging in to another eLearning app, or reminding the kids to keep track of their masks during recess. I often look at my sons and think this is more weight than their little shoulders should have to carry. So how do we help them feel joy when there is so much stress? Here’s the answer, along with a foolproof way to make it happen.

Give in order to survive.

Research shows that humans are born not only with a survival instinct but also with an altruistic instinct that causes us to feel joy when we help others flourish. But it’s more than just, “When I give, I get a warm, fuzzy feeling.” Actually, when we help someone, we tap into the part of the brain that proves that people who collaborate are more likely to survive. If we want to help our children thrive in these “unprecedented times,” maybe it’s time to love and serve in unprecedented ways.

Here are 5 ways tapping into that altruistic instinct can help our kids thrive even while they are stressed. We love Operation Christmas Child, so I’ll use it as an example. It’s a project of Samaritan’s Purse, an international relief organization. They (we!) provide shoebox gifts filled with small toys, hygiene items, and school supplies for children affected by war, poverty, natural disaster, famine, and disease.

1. A tangible act brings tangible joy.

In school, when kids work with their hands, the lessons come to life. Serving is no different. Yes, we should pray for others, but doing something tangible like putting items in a shoebox will resonate more with your kids and they will experience greater joy knowing they touched the items that will be going to the children in need. And a little manual labor does a body, mind, and heart good!

2. They’ll know help is close by (maybe right in their closet).

A lot of people ask if a special shoebox is required for Operation Christmas Child. Nope. Your kids can grab the one that’s sitting empty or storing excess LEGOs on their closet shelf. They’ll discover that they don’t have to go far to find a tool that creates joy—it could be right in their own bedroom!

3. Their toothbrush will feel like a gift.

Gratitude is a great antidote to worry.

The gift suggestions list is broken down by gender and age, but all children need basics like a toothbrush. My 8-year-old son saw that a “Wow Item” for a boy his age is a harmonica. You know what my son’s “wow item” is? A gaming system or a cruise. As you pray over the basic items that are considered Christmas gifts for these boys and girls, your kids will notice how much they have to be thankful for. Gratitude is a great antidote to worry.

4. They’ll see that they are one cog in a big joyful wheel.

When we are stressed, it’s good to know we’re not alone. Not only will your child remember that your family is a team, but he or she will see that a project as big as Operation Christmas Child involves countless volunteers who pack and deliver the boxes. Showing your kids that the world is filled with good people who want to help others is a surefire source of feel-good goosebumps!

5. Another dose of joy is never far away.

Handing your filled shoebox gift over doesn’t have to be the end of the journey for your family. You can track the box to learn what country it winds up in and while you wait to find out, you can pray for whichever child will receive it. What a great way to make a one-day service project last for months. When another 2020 stressor pops up (Whadaya got next, 2020!?), you can talk it over, pray for peace, and track that box. Your kids will learn that even though things feel pretty out of control, their actions have the power to make a difference.

Operation Christmas Child is just one way to help out and relieve stress. What do you and your family like to do? 

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “How does it feel when someone thanks you for something you’ve done?”