By Craig and Marc Kielburger

 

The streets are slick with ice and the kids are home, restless and complaining of boredom. What’s falling from the sky is not the fresh powder worthy of a snowman, but pelting rain and frigid wind that keeps everyone indoors. If weekend plans must be cancelled, the whole family will be holed up and ready to burst.

Winter can test the patience of even the most creative parents.

When the weather is gloomy and your credit card is still carrying the weight of the holiday season, activity options may seem limited. But rather than retreat into separate rooms in the February darkness, use this time indoors to plan for a good cause. Give back as a family to your community—not just today, but on a regular basis.

Maintaining traditions makes families stronger and more stable, and gives children a feeling of comfort and security, according to Dr. Susan Coady, a researcher in family relations at Ohio State University.

Use the dark days of winter to plan a family tradition—one focused on giving back. Mark the calendar, and come back to this date every year when the temperature drops. Or, plan ahead for the summer months to ensure your commitment to a cause doesn’t waver once the snow melts.

Here are some ideas to help you launch a family giving tradition:

Make ‘giving plates.’ This bake-and-take activity is sure to become a family favorite. Decorate some inexpensive ceramic plates with food-safe paints. Have a family baking session (bonus: the oven will warm up the house) and fill the plate with goodies. Finally, share your gift with new or isolated neighbors, sick or stressed friends, or even the mail carrier or bus driver.

Empty-the-closets day. Ransack the family wardrobes for old, unwanted apparel. Bag it up and when the weather settles make a family trip to the local Salvation Army or Goodwill store to donate your duds. Why not bring some of the leftover home-made treats for the hard-working volunteers there, as well?

Family film night. Fire up the popcorn maker and park the family in front of Netflix. Instead of the latest Star Wars installment, choose a film with a social message like The Help. Afterwards, discuss the issues in the film, how the characters took action and what actions the family can take for a related cause.

Talk Dollars and Sense. Plan your family budget for the year with your children. We’re not suggesting you let your teen balance your accounts, but financial literacy helps kids feel empowered, and gets them thinking about how much it takes to run a household. Set aside some funds for great family experiences—like a trip—but also for a charitable commitment. Encourage your kids to do the same by donating birthday money or a portion of their allowance. Help them with research, but let them pick the cause they care about.

Red letter day. Every year, pick a cause to write about. Compose a joint letter on behalf of the family—or, if kids are older, individual letters—to take action on the issue. Maybe it’s writing to your Senator or Congressman about a proposed bill, or supporting an Amnesty International campaign to free political prisoners.

Remember: the family that gives together, stays together.

How do you spend family time? Share your thoughts and photos with us on Twitter and Instagram #WEFamilies.