Family, Kids & Relationships

31 days of spreading joy family challenge

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’Tis the season! Beyond gift-buying and party-planning, decorations and travel, families want to focus on the joy of the year-end holiday season—but that can seem hard to fit into such a hectic schedule.

Not only does spreading joy make others—well, happier!—but it also benefits the recipient because it helps you feel more connected to your community and gives you a positive purpose. Besides the other meaningful traditions of the season, that’s one message parents don’t want to miss passing along to kids.

For ways to make this realistic for your family, here’s a 31-day challenge full of simple and creative ideas to make kindness and joy the main focus of your month! Because isn’t that the whole point?

Day 1: Give a compliment

Choose someone you don’t speak to that often and find something to genuinely compliment them on—whether it’s their outfit or their response in class discussion. It’ll be a pleasant surprise for them and make you feel more connected to your peers!

Day 2: Care package

Pack up some fun foods, stickers, self-care items, handwritten notes, and more to send to a relative or friend who lives alone, a deployed service member, a homesick college student, or just someone you don’t see very often. Kids can help gather items, address and decorate the box, and ship it off. Everyone loves a surprise package!

Day 3: Drop a big tip

Pool together spare coins and bills from everyone in the family so that you can drop an extra tip the next time you’re at a restaurant, get something delivered, or you pass by a street performer.

Day 4: Share some art

If your kids are at that age when they create artistic masterpieces by the dozen, you can make their day by displaying some on the fridge—or you can even hang up a clipboard or a long ribbon with clips on it, and have a rotating gallery that you can easily change out as often as you like! Then spread the joy even farther by sending the artwork to grandparents or other loved ones so they can appreciate it, too, or put it in your front window facing out so passersby can see it. 

No crayon doodles at your house these days? Art is a creative outlet that’s great for everyone’s mental health, so pick something new to try like painting or modeling clay, and have the whole family make some art to display and share!

Day 5: Leave kind comments

On your social media scroll today (or while browsing videos with the kids), find three posts to uplift and comment on them with sincerely positive messages.

Day 6: Chalk mission

With sidewalk chalk, write out encouraging messages or draw silly scenes in front of your house or at the park, and you’re bound to make a stranger’s or neighbor’s day.

Day 7: Donate

You can spread a lot of joy just by giving away things you don’t even use anymore! Here are some ideas:

  • Give your old glasses to the Lions Club, Goodwill, or other organizations that accept gently used eyewear.
  • Buy (or knit, or pass along) extra mittens, hats, sweaters, scarves, or coats to give to a winter clothing/coat drive near you. Have kids help pick out styles and sizes and explain that it’s for families just like yours. 
  • You can also buy a toy (or give a gently used one) to a local organization that looks out for families who need extra support during the holidays. Do an online search for toy drives near you, or look into nationwide projects like Toys for Tots or Operation Christmas Spirit.
  • Consider other surprising things you can donate, such as bicycles and old cell phones.

Day 8: Make a bouquet

Make flowers out of tissue paper, ribbon, old magazines, or other materials you have around the house—and surprise a friend, teacher, or family member with a bouquet or boutonnière.

Day 9: Send snail mail

Most people don’t expect to get letters and homemade cards in the mail anymore, so choose someone who you want to shower with extra love, and send it via the postal service!

Day 10: Give up your spot

Let someone go in front of you next time you’re waiting in line. It feels good to slow down and offer someone else a simple perk!

Day 11: Pick up trash

Studies show that a messy, cluttered environment causes levels of the stress hormone cortisol to increase, so cleaning up can actually have a big impact on everyone’s mental health! There’s always some kind of cleanup that can be done in your neighborhood or home—spruce up sidewalks near you, or clear off the kitchen countertops to brighten others’ day with a tidier space.

Day 12: Help a neighbor

Shovel your neighbor’s driveway—or mow their lawn, rake their leaves, bring their mail or groceries to the house, etc. If your family has the capacity to help other neighbors too, post your free offer on the neighborhood message board.

Day 13: Funny video

Have kids make a video of themselves telling a joke or doing a silly dance, and (with kids’ permission, of course) send it to a friend or relative who could use a laugh!

Day 14: Sticky note

Write an uplifting note or draw a happy face—and stick it on a classmate’s or coworker’s desk, just because.

Day 15: Pay for parking

Put money in an expired parking meter, or leave extra time on yours after you leave. Kids can help put in the coins to feel like they’re part of the mission to spread joy.

Day 16: Cards for sick kids

Deliver joy to a child who is battling a serious illness by sending a homemade card or e-letter. Organizations that coordinate the giving and receiving of cards include Cards for Hospitalized Kids, Send A Smile 4 Kids, and I See Me!

Day 17: Babysit

Offer to watch a neighbor or friend’s children for a couple of hours so that they can get some time to relax or do holiday shopping.

Day 18: Give to a fundraiser

Donate some cash to a fundraiser in your community or social media circle, or search GoFundMe or DonorsChoose for people/groups who could use help right now in your city or town. Another option? Choose a nonprofit organization and ask family members to donate to it in lieu of one of your gifts this year.

Day 19: Run an errand

Ask an elderly neighbor (or someone who is pregnant, a new parent, unable to drive, etc.) if they need anything when you’re headed out to the store, post office, or library.

Day 20: Give a DIY gift

Presents don’t have to cost money to spread smiles to people you care about! Surprise someone with a homemade gift that’s thoughtful (and free).

Day 21: Share books

Set up a Little Free Library, put out a box of free books on the curb, pass along good books to a family with kids younger than yours, or organize a book swap with friends.

Day 22: Five star review

Leave a glowing review for a local business or service that your family has appreciated this year. Make it personal and point out how your family has benefited.

Day 23: Be a friendly face

Make an effort to say hello to everyone you see, give friendly waves, respond generously to questions, and be open to chatting with someone you never thought you’d have anything in common with!

Day 24: Silly snowman

If you have snow, make a funny snowperson (think: standing on its head, wearing a bathing suit and sunglasses, or reading a magazine about tropical vacations) to cheer up the neighborhood. If you don’t have snow, consider making one without snow that you can display in the window or on the front steps.

Day 25: Bring warmth

On a cold day, bring extra cups of hot chocolate/cider or hand/toe warmers to give out at your next playdate or to offer to outdoor workers such as crossing guards, mail carriers, construction workers, and park employees.

Day 26: Creative pancakes

Start with pancakes or another round, flat food, plus some fruit and other toppings. Have a family contest to see who can make the silliest face or funniest hairdo. If you start the day with joy, it’ll be contagious to others!

Day 27: Photo collage

Make a collage of old photos and memories to give to a friend or relative (either virtually, in the mail, or next time you see them in person). There’s nothing like sweet/funny memories to make someone smile.

Day 28: Give out stickers

For no reason at all, hand out fun stickers to all of your classmates at school, neighbors who are out for a walk, or families leaving a holiday event.

Day 29: Thank you note

Send a thank you note, new year card, or kid’s drawing to someone who’s helped your family this year—whether it’s a school administrator, a nurse, a mail carrier, or a librarian.

Day 30: Play charades

A game of charades always makes people laugh, as players have to act things out and make others guess. If you’ve never played it with kids, see this list of kid-friendly charades topics.

Day 31: Gift a playlist

Round up your favorite songs of the year or your favorite musical memories, and send a playlist to someone you love, for their pure listening joy!

If you enjoyed this, check out our other 30-Day Challenges for families!

And don’t forget to get your free printables for each of these fun and connection-building challenges!

Joanna Eng is a staff writer and digital content specialist at ParentsTogether. She lives with her wife and two kids in New York, where she loves to hike, try new foods, and check out way too many books from the library.