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Breaking the Ice on Volunteer Visits

If you and your children are planning to visit a nursing home, community center, or homeless shelter you may be feeling a little uncertain about what to do or say in the presence of strangers. Here are some suggestions to help your kids feel relaxed and comfortable.

  • Arrive bearing gifts. Having a homemade present in hand gives your child a sense of accomplishment and purpose. Whether it's cookies or a holiday mini-wreath for someone's bedroom door, children can explain how they went about making the gift and ask the other person about his or her holiday memories.

  • Bring along a favorite toy. It's a good way to strike up a conversation and it gives kids an opportunity to demonstrate how something works. "My son arrived at the local retirement home with a pair of stilts," recalls one mother. "Those long corridors were perfect! He had the residents in stitches!"

  • Don't forget the family pet. Most people living in communal settings can't keep animals and are thrilled at the unexpected appearance of a guinea pig or turtle. And who doesn't love the opportunity to stroke a well-behaved, unflappable dog? Be sure to check with the person in charge of activities before you come with your menagerie.

  • Call ahead and coordinate your visit with a scheduled mealtime. You and your child can help pass food and clear tables in the dining area, or go along on deliveries to individual rooms. It's fun for residents to observe kids in action, even if they're not interacting with them one-on-one.

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