We are entering the high season of giving—and getting. The mailbox fills up with catalogs; the media is bursting with advertisements. It’s a time when our behavior—what we do and what we don’t do— demonstrates to our children who we are and what we care about. What kind of people do we want our children to become? People who delight in the giving or simply the getting? People who appreciate the gift or even more, the thought behind the giving?
The giving and getting all begins at birth for children—the first getting of the love and warmth that comes from being held and fed, and the giving back to parents of the unconditional need, and later the smile and the up stretched arms. The development of empathy – feeling the feelings of others and emotional and moral intelligence begins in those moments. As the child’s world expands, they must work through the challenges of discovering “mine” and the need to share and give to others.
Children learn to give from us when we demonstrate that we value sharing, caring, and helping others, when we model generosity, and when we encourage children’s opportunities to experience caring and helping.
And what of the gifts? Children are born astonished, and easily pleased by the gift of the warm breeze or cool water, the grasshopper to find, the box to crawl in, the paper to tear and rustle. It takes an all out multi-media cultural onslaught to learn to only value the advertised doll or truck, or the expensive battery operated thingamajig, or all too soon, the need for a name brand. It is not easy to buck the culture, even if we forego TV and other media. We are who we are and our culture in some fashion “is us.” Perhaps, what we can do is try and be at our best and most thoughtful during the holidays and remember that there is empathy, compassion, and goodness in children, just waiting to come out. The more we moderate our most indulgent tendencies and consider the hidden messages of what we do and don’t do, the more likely children will become the people that we wish them to be.
The Hidden Messages
As parents, it’s just natural for us to want to give our children the things we didn’t have, and in a world of “more is better,” it’s easy to confuse the wants of our children with their actual needs. Often we respond to every “I want” because we can and not necessarily because we should. Try these ideas:
- Encourage your child to give one or more of their toys or books to someone in need. Not a forgotten toy or a torn book, but a special belonging.
- Avoid buying too many things for your child. The more you have, the less appreciation your child will have.
- Even though you may be able to afford it, try not to buy your child something every time you go in a store, not even gum or candy.
- Avoid giving your child too many choices. When you go to a store, try letting your child make a selection just from the book aisle or the arts and crafts area.
- Set limits on the dollar amount or number of toys your child may request during the holidays. Let your child know that they will not receive everything they request. A few small gifts usually satisfy the unwrapping frenzy and one cherished treasure is probably enough.
The Gift of Time
As parents, time is probably our most valuable asset and scarcest resource. It’s difficult to get away from our busy schedules, but we can use our daily calendars to our advantage by showing our children that time together is a precious gift.
- Use “care times,” dressing, eating and going to school as “prime times” to enjoy being with your child and talking to them.
- Schedule lunch with your child.
- Schedule an outing with your family each month. Go biking or to a local park or museum.
- Schedule an “inning” with your family each month. Don’t make any plans. Relax in your pajamas, cook breakfast together, watch a movie or play outside.
- Read, take a walk or play a board game with your child whenever you can.
Books for Teaching
Reading children’s books is a wonderful way to spend time with your child. Sharing books with children also provides the opportunity to explore the ideas and issues of compassion and need, the feelings behind giving and meaning of gifts. Check out these books from your local library:
- In Hush Little Baby, Sylvia Long rewrote the traditional words to emphasize that giving is not about commercial value. Mama doesn’t buy diamond rings; she gives her baby her enchantment with life.
- In The Teddy Bear, a little boy gives up a bear he loves to someone who has little else.
- And King in the Quilt Maker’s Gift finds the joy in giving beautiful things.
Ideas for Giving
“It’s better to give than to receive” is an old adage that we’ve all heard, but the American Psychological Association has an article in its issue of Psychological Science titled “Giving to others linked to longer life.” The article suggests that helping others, giving support and assistance may increase your life expectancy by at least five years. A stretch? Maybe, but if you shovel the snow from your neighbor's sidewalk this winter, you may be doing yourself, your child and your neighbor a favor. Here are some additional ideas for helping and giving to others that you can do with your child during the holiday season and any time of the year:
- Bring flowers to a nursing home or to an elderly person in the neighborhood
- Participate in a community parade or event
- Collect clothing and donate them to a local shelter
- Make tray favors, scrapbooks, napkin rings, or crafts for a special occasion to donate to a local children's hospital, hospital or nursing home
- "Adopt" a grandparent to visit and help him or her with necessary chores
- Present baked or perishable goods to a food bank or to someone in need
- Collect canned goods for local food banks
- Make greeting cards for a veteran's hospital, or other health care facilities
- Make bird feeders for local park or nature centers
- Adopt a service person stationed overseas, collect items and send them a gift
- Make toys, games or crafts for a pediatric unit of a hospital
There are toys and treats, goodies and games. And no matter how much of these our children have, there will always be someone who has more and someone who has less. In our culture, we have so much. How can we teach our children to be thankful and to give to others? We start with the very small and by setting a good example. Young children can give a kind word, offer a smile, share a toy or comfort a friend. And as they grows so will their generosity. No matter what they have, our children can always give their love and their time.
Gigi Schweikert is the president and COO of Lightbridge Academy and an expert in the field of early childhood education. She has managed corporate childcare centers and their educational programs for more than 30 years. Schweikert was the host of Today’s Family and is a bestselling author of eighteen books. Follow 1851 Franchise as she shares her tips on parenting and childcare.