It’s the gift-giving season, and despite our best intentions we often find ourselves haring about at the last minute and “settling” on gifts for people we really care about and deserve better. Doesn’t make sense. Our kids see us doing this, and somehow they end up doing the same thing.

Waste of time. Waste of money. Waste of a good learning opportunity.

We could be spending our time in much better ways. We could certainly be spending our money in much better ways. And we could be teaching our kids about the true meaning of giving.

Here, then, are a few thoughts about giving and a few suggestions of ways kids can give gifts that are truly meaningful both to the giver and the receiver. These gifts cost almost no money, and yet they’re priceless. They also reinforce a message you’ve read often in the Dr. Rick Blog – never let a day go by without being a blessing to someone.

1. Babysit. Older kids can offer to babysit for a certain number of hours for parents who will be grateful forever.

2. Pet sit. Offer to care for Fido or Fluffy while their owners are away. A discount on your usual rates for an extended time or a freebie for a one-day session.

3. Wash cars. A personally-made, clever “gift certificate” for a car wash is a welcome gift. And if it’s done right, you’ll have a customer for the rest of the year.

4. Clean house. One of those gift certificates for an elderly neighbor or friend is another good idea. An hour’s worth of light housekeeping, like dusting and vacuuming – plus the pleasant company – can be a true gift.

5. Help with homework. This is a terrific gift for older siblings to give to their younger siblings. It’s like having a built-in study buddy.

6. Give lessons. If a kid has a particular talent – playing guitar, basketball, or soccer, singing in the choir, assembling intricate models, preparing for scout merit badges, designing video games, jewelry-making, whatever – offering to share that talent can be a big confidence boost as well as helping others.

7. Cook. Kid has an interest in cooking or baking? Let him use the kitchen – with your supervision, naturally – to make tasty treats for friends and family. Help him make some personalized “Baked by Billy” cards to include.

8. Help out at your house of worship. A group of kids could do some valuable work at their church, temple, or mosque in the name of some lucky gift recipients who could get a nice letter from the religious leader. Or maybe a mention in the weekly bulletin – “Christmas decorating donated in the name of Mr. and Mrs. Jones” or “Canned Goods for the Homeless Campaign organized and operated in recognition of Mrs. Henrietta Green.”

9. Volunteer. Older kids benefit immensely from volunteering their time and talents for organizations in which they have an interest. A hand-made, personalized card saying something like, “In your name I’m volunteering at the neighborhood pet shelter” is meaningful and thoughtful. (If she gets scout or school community service credit, all the better!) Of course, an added benefit is your kid could be introduced to some new and interesting role models and career opportunities.

10. Volunteer with your kid. Here’s a way to expand on the volunteer experience. The two of you can get all the benefits while you’re also having a good time together. It’s a perfect opportunity for you to emphasize your family’s values and beliefs.

There are many ways kids can give meaningful gifts while also saving money, enhancing their confidence, working at something worthwhile, gaining some social benefits, and learning skills that will serve them always. We’re limited by our own lack of imagination, so put on those thinking caps! Sit down with your kids now to decide how they’re going to be real-life gifts to others this holiday season.