Does your child have a hard time thinking of others and wanting to give gifts and time rather than receive them? If so, you are not alone. Giving is a learned behavior for many children. Is it worth your time and effort to teach? Parents across America say yes.
“I want them to understand that not everybody has the means to have everything they want or even things that they need, as well as to help them feel that they are able to help someone have something that they otherwise would not be able to,” said Shelley, mother of two in Wisconsin.
Jill, mother of four in Virginia, tries to lead by example and includes her children in family-friendly voluntary activities.
“When they were younger, we would take time to go to a nursing home to visit the elderly as well as donate time in our church by making meals, visiting the sick, helping teach, etc.,” said Jill. “I would say that I am the one in the family who donates the time with making meals for people or volunteering. I've had the kids help me when they could and I pray that I have been an example to them.”
Many children begin understanding around the time they enter elementary school that there are other children who do not have food and clothes like they have. They may talk about it and even be willing to lead donations drives of their own. You can help guide them on items to donate and where – explaining that the quality should still be good so that others can enjoy it too.
Sometimes giving can be as simple as bringing hard-collected Halloween candy to the local fire department, donating too-small clothes to Goodwill or taking gently used books to a local women’s shelter. The opportunities to give are abundant.
Some children might be overly willing to give things a way, so you might need to set some guidelines.
“I have them show me what they plan on donating and if it is something I think they shouldn’t give away, I will ask them if they are sure they want to donate it, and if they are good with it, then I proceed. I only step in when it is something that holds sentimental value that they are too young to understand,” said Shelley.
Parents have to know what they are willing to let go of, and encourage their children to give with an open heart. Different situations can also serve as a wakeup call for parents. Recently, Jill’s family was pulling together items to donate to the local church.
“Meagan gathered a lot to be donated and some things put out there were items that she never even used. While I am okay with it going, it has made me realize that we can and should do with less in this house. I'm in a process of trying to simplify, simplify, simplify,” said Jill. “We don't need all of the material things and it would serve everyone better if I didn't get it in the first place. The money I save could go straight to a shelter or the church.”
Kira, from South Carolina, has arranged with the adult-members of her family to donate money to a designated charity every year instead of exchanging gifts. Each year a different family member gets to select the charity to which everyone will make the donation. Over the years, it has varied from local to international organizations. They know that the combined contribution will make a bigger impact than the gifts the family’s adults would receive, and it teaches their children about the importance of giving.
“It just got overwhelming for me, trying to choose a gift for my father, for example, who already has everything. Did he really want another DVD or tie? We are all pretty fortunate in that if we really want something, we buy it for ourselves. So the Christmas gifts were more ‘have to’ versus ‘want to’ and they lost their meaning,” said Kira. “I was proud of our families for embracing the idea of putting that gift money each year toward a charity. The kids, as they get older, are starting to participate as well.”
Ways to teach children to give
The opportunities are numerous, but here are just a few ways you can encourage giving in your household.
- Lead by example, volunteer in the classroom, at church, etc.
- Use a child’s birthday party as a time to collect canned goods instead of gifts (or invite guests to donate toys to Toys for Tots)
- Donate clothes to a family-in-need, Goodwill or other charity
- Sponsor a family for Christmas (check with your local human services organizations or church to find perspective families)
- Plan monthly visits to the local nursing home
- Offer to shop, shovel or mow the lawn for an elderly neighbor
- Volunteer to ring a bell for the Salvation Army