The holiday season is officially in full swing and I bet you’re knee deep in gifting and preparations. While I love the joy that receiving gifts brings my girls, I much prefer the pride I get from watching them give. Yup, get ready, because we’re going to talk about how to layer in a teaching moment among all that festive fun. So, here it is, how do you go about teaching young children the act of giving?
One of the things my husband and I are trying to instill in our children is the concept of privilege. Even at the tender age of five (and a half!) or oldest understands that there are children who have less and families who struggle. And that it is our responsibility as good humans to give when we can without the expectation of receiving. Heavy, right? It’s actually not that tricky of a concept for kids to grasp and in my experience, the best place to start is with food.
We shop at a grocery store that has pre-packaged hampers for the food bank that you can purchase for either five or ten dollars. Once a week on our regular shopping trip, I grab one, and my oldest will simply carry it to the bin. That’s how it started. As simple as it sounds, the act of placing food in a bin for others allowed her the tangible experience she needed to put a very abstract concept into focus. AKA, we have extra food, so we give.
In the spirit
The holidays are a special time to start teaching this lesson because everyone around us is already in a giving spirit. As we build lists, go shopping, get special photographs, and buy food for feasts, there are a few extra steps that you can take to integrate a little more giving into your children’s holiday routine. Now let me say that giving can happen in many forms, and just as I am teaching our children about privilege, I am fully aware of mine. These are examples of what we have done after a few years of teaching these concepts to our kids. So, start with talking about it and then layer in the acts when and where you can.
Make a list
This is something that children look forward to already. Making their wish list. We like to take the concept a little further, and we ask the kids to make a list of what they would like to give and to whom. This is normally for family members and people that we regularly exchange gifts with, but it’s a nice and easy start to the idea of giving. T
Get the list
This one can really help the idea of those with less hit home. If you have a sensitive kid like my oldest be prepared for a comforting conversation. Grab the list of the most needed items from your local food bank and/or shelters. If you’re kids are old enough, read it with them. I’m serious when I warn you that this is a tough task. The list is often full of basic necessities that children would never even consider living without. I’m pretty careful about this as our girls are still so young. I typically choose a few items from each list to tell my kids about. This year we spoke about why non perishables are so important and about how many children might wake up without gifts if others don’t help out.
Pick it out
There are two ways to now put these concepts into action. The first is taking that list and heading out to the store. Because food is such an important lesson in our house (hello, growing up where food was not always in abundance and often came from canning in the summer to eat in the winter) we start at the grocery store. This year, Charlie, our oldest, wanted to give to the food bank boxes at school. So, we focused on food that parents could pack their children for lunches and breakfast foods so no one had to come to school hungry.
Now, our youngest is just over two so far too young to understand why we are picking out food to give away. She does, however, understand toys. For her act of
Just as giving to children is a big part of our lessons, so is giving to seniors. Each year we head to London Drugs to grab
Time for time
This is the second way of giving and one that our family really struggles with. Giving your time. There are countless organizations that need volunteers, especially around the holidays to help with sorted and distributing donations. If you can, give your time. I think if you had older children this would be a much more effective way of teaching the concepts of privilege and giving. Getting kids involved in the actual process of helping others is by and far the best way to affect change within their perception.
Less is more
We are diligent about making sure we are not going over the top with gift giving to our children. They have so much already, it’s like, how much happiness can another toy truly bring them? I say this not to sound cynical about the holidays, but to put a bit of perspective on it. My joy for the holidays came back when I stopped equating love to presents. I know, that’s a whole big bomb to drop and I’ll get into that another day. Essentially, I used what I was no longer spending on random filler gifts to start giving to strangers.
My children have never known any other way of experiencing the holidays. If you’re looking to start with older children, I suggest an honest and frank conversation about your own relationship with giving. Tell them why it’s important
Carry it forward
Here’s the really important part. Try to keep this going throughout the year. If you can keep the spirit of giving alive beyond the holiday season you will create a ripple of change that could shape the future of so many. It can be as simple as grabbing an extra box of macaroni for the food bank bin every few months. The trick is to make sure you’re kids are involved or at least witnessing you during acts of giving and kindness.
Here’s my last nugget of humble truth talk. Being a good human is exceedingly rare. I’m not talking about being nice and kind, but rather, being someone who believes in taking more time with the comfort of others than themselves. We, yes the collective we, are so deeply isolated, that we forget that humans are pack animals. That we are supposed to care for our young and old, our sick and struggling. We are not to survive by looking out for ourselves. The great divisiveness that is happening around so many nations is truly troubling. What will it take to change the narrative from surviving to thriving? To see the top reach back and start pulling the middle forward?
Remember friends, the top may be the sails that pull everyone forward, but the middle is the ship. If the ship keeps falling to the anchor, the sails will stand still and none of us will move.
That is to say, the act of giving is beneficial for us all. When we teach our children to give, we teach them to put the needs of others before their own wants. Hopefully, turning them into good humans, who care about the long term success of our society.