We all know how much kids like to receive. You only have to mention Santa, the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy to understand how true that is. So how can we teach our children to appreciate that the holiday season is primarily about giving, not getting, and to understand how lucky they are?
Start early. Although giving and gratitude are hard concepts for really little ones to grasp, it’s never too early to start building a culture that embraces them. I’ve heard that by the age of 4 habits for life have already been formed. So as well as teaching your kids that they should brush their teeth twice a day, you could also use this time to establish positive behaviors around generosity and thankfulness.
Use their language. While some of the language around this subject may be too sophisticated for the smallest members of the family, using words they can relate to helps encourage familiarity early on. Taking advantage of the wealth of children’s books on this subject can help. Favorites in our family include Ordinary Mary’s Extraordinary Deed by Emily Pearson, Thankful by Eileen Spinelli and Have You Filled a Bucket Today by Carol McCloud. There really is something to suit all ages.
Involve them. You can also introduce youngsters to philanthropy at a tender age, involving them in donation drives at school, daycare, community center, or wherever your family is connected. It’s obviously more meaningful to have your children select something to donate for themselves, although it can be hard for them to give away something of their own (even a toy they no longer play with). But if you’re out shopping for something for them, try having them pick out something for someone who has less than they have. Or start with a less emotive food drive and turn a mundane grocery run into something more like a treasure hunt.
Utilize tools. Another way to bring in the concept of charitable giving is to use a philanthropy piggy bank. We have a charming one that has a larger mama pig for saving and a smaller, nestling piglet for giving. It’s easy then to suggest birthday money is divided up between them. Finding a charity that your youngsters feel some affinity toward (a school initiative or an animal charity, for example) can help make this idea easier to relate to. Then let them know how proud you are of them for doing this. It is said that children are more highly motivated by feelings of self-worth than tangible rewards.
Harness creativity. Of course, the physical act of giving something can be an enjoyable project in itself. Labeling gift tags can be good writing practice, while glitterizing or bedazzling a package is what kids truly do best. Setting up a creativity station and putting on some holiday music can make this a fun afternoon activity for the whole family.
Play mail carrier. Finally, have your kids deliver gifts with you. Recipients will be touched seeing a child hand over a present, and that joy is something your kids will get to witness first-hand. Making a connection between giving and joy is a powerful tool. Giving can be pleasurable for a child too, it just takes a little effort.