Four Gifts That Could Last Forever

Because the best things in life aren’t things.

Posted Dec 16, 2015

Whenever there was a decent Midwestern snowfall, my brothers and I had to shovel ‘Old Lady Jenson’s’ walk before we did our own. Why? She was always in a foul mood and never said ‘thank you.’ Dad’s answer? ‘In life, you get what you give,’ whatever that meant. One fine spring day, my younger brother sent a baseball through her upstairs window. What we got back was a surprise and a gift. Not police, but an apple pie with a note; “Dear Pruett Boys, We are square. The window repair cost me 7 shoveled walks. The pie is for your parents. They deserve it for making you do it.” She seemed nicer after that. For the first time, I thought about random acts of kindness, and about being taught that in life you get what you give.

My favorite forever gifts could provide long-term value for your child:

  • Give to the community. Take your children when the community garden or other local service project asks for volunteers. Introduce them to the organizer, and if they have them, bring their own tools. It has to be personal for a young child to make the connection that volunteering is giving.
  • Focus on someone in need. Identify a family (through a local service agency or faith-based organization) that has fallen on hard times as a result of a reason that a young child can understand and empathize with in an age-appropriate way (house fire, person becomes seriously ill, a pet dies). Together with your child, go through his or her closets, bookshelves and toy chests and ask the child to choose items to give to this particular family. Then have the child see you do the same.
  • Pay it forward. Take your child on a shopping expedition for a gift he or she will give to another child (of approximate age) outside of your family’s circle. This is a tough one, especially for those in the pre-K range (an age known for the ‘gimmies’), but your child can learn from you how to separate needs from wishes.
  • Random acts of kindness. Late one night driving home from a soccer tournament, I needed coffee. As we pulled up to the drive-through window, the cashier, with a hint of surprise in his young voice said, “The lady in the car ahead paid for you - no charge.” I recognized neither the car nor the driver. I handed him the ten bucks I already had in hand and said, “OK, take care of the car behind us.” He smiled and said, “Hey…this is fun…OK!”, as I drove off without checking my rearview mirror. My children were agape in the back seat; ‘Dad! You didn’t have to do that!’ ‘Exactly,’ I replied. ‘That’s exactly what makes it feel so good to do.’

Dr. Kyle Pruett is a Clinical Professor of Child Psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine and Educational Advisory Board member for The Goddard School, an early childhood education franchise and leading preschool teaching learning through play (