For me as a parent, the hardest part about this time of year is the delicate balance between wanting to delight my children with the perfect gift and trying to avoid turning them into greedy little monsters. There is a limit, however, to my control in this precarious situation. They have lots of grandparents and relatives who shower them with presents, and there is no use trying to battle those powerful forces this December. Instead, I try to make sure all the receiving is equally balanced with a healthy dose of giving.
This season, think about ways you can teach your children about giving.
There are so many ways to teach about giving. The goal is to make it concrete and let children make the decisions in terms of who to give to and what to give. This will make them much more invested in the experience. This will enhance the messages they take away form the experience, and make it much more fun.
Here are some ideas:
You can actually buy toys to give away to children who have less this year. Every town has these types of opportunities, often as Angel Tree programs or toy donations. Our fire department runs a holiday toy program that accepts new toys and passes them out to families in need before Christmas. Before we do any of our own shopping each year, our children shop for others.
Beyond your own town, you can also help children think about issues of poverty and need around the world.
Even young children want to help others, but donating money is too abstract for a young mind to understand.
Heifer International is a good option for children because it is so concrete. For example, you can give your child a certain amount of money (such as $20.00) and he or she can help buy a stove for a village or a flock of chicks or ducks.
My child's elementary school provided another great example of how to teach giving. A group of 10 children raised money by (oddly enough) selling homemade Duct tape wallets to their classmates. The children then went to the local warehouse superstore with the money to purchase donations for the Humane Society. They simply called the Humane Society ahead of time and asked for a shopping list. Any parent could also do this with their own children. My daughter loved the experience. In the future, I plan on giving her a gift card and a list of options (such the food pantry, children's hospital, or Humane Society). We can then go on a "shopping spree” and deliver the goods to the organization.
Finally, because my children are particularly blessed with so many relatives, I ask my children to set aside a couple of gifts to not be taken out of the box. I tell them this ahead of time and I let them pick which ones. We then pick a children’s home, Ronald McDonald House, children’s hospital, or low-income preschool to deliver the toys to after the holidays.
Children want to help others. They simply need the adults in their lives to help facilitate this. In this season of adundance for some and deprivation for others, one of the gifts I want to give my own kids is the gift of empathy and compassion.