‘Tis the season for giving! This time of year, the mood strikes us to browse stores and websites to shop for presents that will show our friends and family that we care. Of course, all that shopping adds up, and gift-giving becomes expensive. Big Brothers Big Sisters doesn’t encourage volunteer mentors to give presents to their Littles, in part because they encourage free or low cost expenditures for our outings.
This rule may have some benefit to the kids we mentor. Research suggests that gift-giving from parents during childhood is associated with greater materialism in grown adults, based on a study from the University of Missouri and University of Illinois at Chicago. While we do not play the role of parent in our Littles’ lives, mentors are role models that kids look up to. If we put material goods on a pedestal, our mentees may potentially associate a large quantity or high quality gifts with a heightened sense of self.
Research aside, gifts indisputably play an important part in our culture, especially during the holiday season. When we want to show someone we are committed to them or care about them, we present them with a gift. These are likely feelings many mentors and mentees share, and want to express in some way. Knowing the effects may be harmful, going in with an informed perspective and clear idea of the outcome of giving your Little a present is just as important.
Every mentor, Little, and parent has their own belief system around gift-giving. If you want to give your Little a present during the holidays, and their parent is comfortable with it, read on for mindful gift ideas!
- Make a donation in their name. Give the gift of more giving! If you and your Little have a favorite cause or organization that you both champion, this could be a meaningful gift idea for the holidays. Consider donating to your Big Brothers Big Sisters chapter- that is how you met, after all!
- Write them a letter. Sometimes, your words are the greatest gift of all. You can write about what your friendship with your Little means to you, and goals you have for the new year.
- Create a framed photo of you both. If you’ve taken even one photo together, a hand-decorated, framed photo of the two of you could be a meaningful gift that your Little will treasure for years to come.
- Bake homemade treats. If your Little and their family have a sweet tooth, try your hand at whipping up some holiday goodies in the kitchen for them to share. Even better, your Little could pitch in and help make the goods, turning this present into an outing!
- Re-gift your favorite books. Sometimes, the most special gifts of all are ones that hold special significance to the ones we care about. If you’ve held on to a book that you’ve cherished since you were your Little’s age, consider passing it down as a gift to them.
- Scrapbook your time together. Similar to a framed photo, it can be fun and memorable to maintain a keepsake between the two of you. Save up photos, ticket stubs, and random collectibles from your outings together, and you’ll have some great materials to work with when building a scrapbook!
- Create a mix CD. This may seem a little old school, but if you and your Little connect with music in the car on a routine basis, a mix CD of your favorite songs could be a prized possession for years to come.
- Craft a handmade gift. Whether you knit, stitch, woodwork, make jewelry, draw, paint, create soaps, or like to experiment with random crafts you see on Buzzfeed- a handmade gift is more meaningful than one that is bought at the store. Your Little might even be interested in partaking in the craft-making, which could sow the seeds of a new hobby for them.
- “Open When” letters. Write a series of letters for your Little to open at different points in their lives, like when they need a pep talk, when they graduate high school, when they go on their first date, when they need a laugh, when they can’t fall asleep, etc. This set is made more so for couples or parents, but you can tailor the idea for letters to your Little Brother or Sister.
- Plant a tree or garden in their honor. If your Little is especially passionate about the environment, this small gesture could mean a lot to your Little. It could be something they tend to and see grow as they get older.
- Sign up for a class for your Little, or a class to take together. As mentors, we want to instill a love of learning and continual growth for our Littles. What better way to show that than by gifting them a class? Whether your Little wants to improve their computer science skills, discover improv, or learn piano, there is a class for them. Check out CourseHorse, TakeLessons, or Groupon for ideas in your area.
- Print their art onto something. If your Little loves to get creative, there are ways for you to transpose their art onto towels, blankets, canvas prints, mugs, key chains, stickers, or magnets. There’s no limit to the ways you can showcase their creativity, and chances are, they will love to see their handiwork embossed on something they will look at every day.
- Go on an extra special outing. If you’d prefer not to give your Little a material possession, consider setting aside some time for a special outing you both have always wanted to do together. Perhaps it’s a little more costly than your usual outings, or something that’s a bit more out of the way than you usually travel.
- Give your time together. Rather than exchanging gifts, share the gift of giving to others with your Little. Volunteer at the LA Regional Food Bank, write letters to kids in the hospital, walk rescue dogs, assemble care packages for soldiers, or organize a fundraiser for a cause you both care about.
- Gift them art supplies, school supplies, or a how-to guide. Nothing is more practical than items your Little will use for school or for their hobbies. If you know your Little loves to paint, a new canvas might be a good gift. If they love Marvel comics, a Marvel-themed lunchbox or planner could put a smile on their face. If they could use a new hobby, there are lots of books and craft boxes out there that will help them discover new talents.
Whether or not you plan to give a gift to your Little Brother or Sister is up to you and their parent. At the end of the day, your service as a volunteer is beyond the call of duty, and a gift in and of itself to your Little. However, if you do decide to give your Little a present for the holidays, consider making it meaningful and personal to your match relationship!