Annual shoebox appeal makes children part of the giving process
Families can build a box online for children affected by poverty in Africa and east Europe
Teacher Rebecca Adamson’s children have built their shoeboxes online and personalised them with colouring sheets.
“The Team Hope shoebox appeal is an annual appeal which encourages individuals, friends, families, schools, communities and businesses to donate gift-filled shoeboxes to children affected by poverty in countries across Africa and eastern Europe, ” says Jonathan Douglas, Team Hope’s national shoebox appeal manager.
“Each gift-filled shoebox contains a mixture of the four Ws – wash, write, wear and wow. This makes sure each child gets items that they both need and will love,” he continues. “Often, these gifts are the only present a child will receive in their lifetime and the appeal is an opportunity to share a little joy and excitement with children who live in circumstances where these can often be in short supply.”
Team Hope’s shoebox appeal has been running since 2010. This year the appeal has been moved online as it is not possible to send shoeboxes from Ireland due to Covid-19 restrictions.
“Children and families can get involved this year by building their box on our new website,” says Douglas. “They can also download colouring sheets and upload their finished colouring sheets to personalise their shoebox even more.”
Teacher and mother of two, Rebecca Adamson, has seen the benefit of taking part in the shoebox appeal both at home and in the classroom. “Giving money to charity can be a difficult concept for children to understand. The beauty of the Team Hope shoebox appeal is that children are so involved in the giving process. I have seen many children enjoy choosing items to put in the box, sometimes even giving some of their own pre-loved toys,” she says.
“For young children, it is the beginning of understanding giving to others who have far, far less than they do. In school it’s always a very exciting time seeing the colourful shoeboxes arriving in and stacking up in the hall. It is one of the most practical and hands-on ways to give to children who are in need. It is such a simple idea and yet it brings such joy to children and communities.
“With my own children, aged four and six, we have already made our shoeboxes online. They loved clicking on the pictures of items to include and colouring the pictures to upload to go with their shoebox. I have no doubt that the children in school will also enjoy doing this. It’s obviously quite different to previous years but involving the children in the process is so important,”Adamson adds.
Speaking about the benefits of taking part in the shoebox appeal, lecturer in psychology and education, Dr Mary O’Kane, says: “It is never too early to start talking to your child about kindness and empathy. Our children have a natural predisposition to develop empathy, but as parents we can influence this by encouraging them to act on it.
“From about a year old, children will try to comfort others in distress and try to offer their help if needed. Research with toddlers has shown that helping others makes them happy. It might surprise some parents to know that the children were often happier sharing a bag of treats with another child than keeping them all for themselves. We want to build on this, so, the younger the better for them to hear conversations in the home about supporting others and see us act on those ideals.
“One of the important aspects of developing empathy is developing emotional connection. Children are more likely to want to help someone they can relate to. This is why children supporting other children works well,” she says.
“We don’t want to approach a charitable project as something the child should do. Instead, it can help to talk to them about why we are getting involved and the impact on the child they are helping,” Dr O’ Kane continues. “We can start by explaining in a child-friendly way that some children don’t have as much as they do.”
For parents worried that their children might become overwhelmed by the difficulties that children around the world face, Dr O’Kane recommends “showing them an image of the delight in a child’s face when they receive a Christmas shoebox”.
“They can see the positive difference it can make,” she says. “We can focus on the good they are doing, the difference they are making to the lives of other children. That is the most important thing for them to understand.
“From a young age, we can see the benefits of teaching children to show kindness to others. It develops their understanding of other people’s challenges, helping them to connect with the reality of others experiencing difficulties. It also gives them a real sense of accomplishment in having helped others.
“For younger children involving them in forms of charity where they can make a tangible connection with their kindness and a concrete impact is important. It is also more beneficial for a child to be involved in a charitable cause where they are giving something of themselves.”
It’s not just younger children who benefit from taking part in charitable activities. Teenagers benefit hugely too. “Research into the impact of kindness and empathy has shown it can impact on self-esteem and improve mood,” Dr O’Kane explains. “Brain research has found that being kind increases levels of serotonin and dopamine which is linked to feelings of wellbeing and overall satisfaction. So, there are scientific links between engaging in acts of kindness and improvements in mood and stress reduction. No matter what age you are, this ‘helper high’ can increase positivity and self worth.
“A study by the University of British Columbia looked at the impact of young teens performing three acts of kindness each week and found that doing this had an impact on their own personal feelings of happiness and satisfaction. But it also impacted on their relationships with their peers, having a positive impact on their friendships. So being kind seems to have a knock-on effect on teenage relationships as well as their own wellbeing.
“Interestingly, research shows that although we tell our teens we value kindness and empathy, in practice we focus much more on their personal achievement. Research from the Harvard Graduate School of Education has found that levels of empathy in students have declined dramatically over the past few decades. They found some very interesting links between our teenagers’ empathy and the messages they receive from parents about kindness. There seems to be a difference between rhetoric and reality in terms of parental priorities. If we want them to show kindness and empathy, they need to know we really value those dispositions. The best way to do that, is to show them,” Dr O’Kane says.
The shoebox appeal week runs from November 9th to November 15th. You can build your own online shoebox at teamhope.ie