It can be tough to teach children the value of giving in a season when they’re surrounded by messages about the value of getting. Here are five ways to start:
Start small when the kids are small.
Your young child might be happy to help bake cookies for a friend but end up wanting to keep the gift herself. Plan for this by baking enough cookies to keep and enough cookies to give. Young children need help in learning to share.
Teach your child that he doesn’t need money to give.
Help your child make gift certificates good for “one free car wash” or “breakfast in bed” that he can give to others in the family.
Involve your child in selecting the gift.
You may think that donating to cancer research is important, but your child who is an animal lover may be more interested in making sure the dogs at the humane society have an extra treat at the holidays. Help her find a way to give the gift she feels is important.
Be a role model.
Volunteer your family’s time at a soup kitchen or senior center. Gather small-size toiletries, such as toothpaste and shampoo, and pack them in decorated gift bags to take to a homeless shelter. Ask your child if he’ll help you baby-sit for a neighbor’s toddler so she can do her shopping or help you rake the leaves for an elderly friend.
It’s faster for busy parents to write a check to a charity, but it has little impact on a child who can’t see where the money is going or imagine the people who benefit. Delivering canned goods to a food bank is more meaningful than dropping a check in the mail. Your family could “adopt” a needy family through a community organization, choose the gifts and wrap them.
Feeling too busy to organize an activity like this? Author Ellen Sabin has suggestions that can work for the most time-challenged parents. Sabin wrote The Giving Book: Open the Door to a Lifetime of Giving, an interactive workbook to help 6- to 11-year-olds discover the joy of giving and their power to make a difference. Sabin also offers free tools and guides for parents, teachers and religious educators to use with her book.
Sabin suggests having a family conversation about what you’re thankful for. That will help your child realize that what she values may be missing in other people’s lives.
Sabin also offers three activities to try. “These things don’t take huge amounts of time. They just take a few moments of thoughtfulness.”
- Start a tradition in which family members set aside one of their gifts to give to someone less fortunate.
- Think of someone without a family — a soldier, a distant relative, a friend in the hospital — and write a letter as a family to make the person feel loved and included during the holidays.
- Talk about beginning the new year with a family giving box. Everyone can regularly add a small amount of money to the box to contribute to a group or cause the family agrees to support.
Giving gives children a sense of self-esteem and pride, says Sabin. “Giving is addictive. It gets in your blood. It makes you realize that you and your actions matter.”