Friday, December 5, 2008

Teaching Children How to Give

The Case of the Christmas Advertisement
An unsuspecting parent brings the mail inside the house and tosses it on the table. An advertisement opens slowly to reveal the Christmas toys on sale in various bright and screaming colors.
“Mom, I want this! Can I have this? Oh look at this, can I ask Santa to bring me this?”
Sound familiar? How about this part—previously mentioned ad is sent on a top secret mission to the garbage can. If you wish to succeed this holiday, all advertisements must be re-routed, if you should fail you will suffer the holiday mantra “I need it! I want it!” for the remainder of the year.

In a world full of “I wants” and immediate gratification, how can we teach our children how to give?
This is the question my husband and I asked when our first child reached the toddler stage where everything new had to be had, looked at for a minute, and then tossed aside for the next novel item. We decided it was up to us to begin early teaching the art of giving.
Every year my husband’s place of employment has offered a giving tree. The tree is decorated with small ornaments and each one has a tag attached with the age of a child and what they need for Christmas. We have begun a family tradition to choose tags off the tree matching the age and gender of our children. Then we involve our children in the process of selecting a gift, wrapping it, and sending it on its way to another child.
I have to admit although I love doing this, the process is a bit painful for a three year old or a four year old—but that’s the point. We want to teach our children that they do not NEED every toy they see and to help them become aware of other’s needs. I love my children and I think they are wonderful, kind little creatures—but they’re still kids and kids are naturally a little bit selfish. If you give them a chance though they will surprise you with how unselfish they can “learn” to be.
To help our children understand I start with the basic things we should be grateful for. Asking simple questions in regular conversation (no harping allowed) will help open their eyes to different circumstances. Here are some of the questions I have asked my three and five year old recently and a few of their responses:

Me: “Isn’t it fun that you have so many different shirts/pants to wear to school? What if you only had one shirt and one pair of pants to wear to school and then the pants got a hole in them?”
Gracie Age 5: “That would be sad.”
Maggie Age 3: “Yeah, it would be saaaa-dd.”

Me: “What do you think would happen if you had to go to school with no coat? What would you do at recess?”
Gracie: “I would get cold and I would have to stay inside.”
Maggie: “It would be freezin’ and freezin’ and cold!”

Me: “What if our baby Dawson didn’t have a warm sleeper to wear?”
Gracie: “We could pray for him.”
Maggie: “If he gets cold, he would need a jacket on to warm him up.”

Me: Did you know that there are lots of kids who don’t get to eat breakfast in the morning? Who only have an old coat that doesn’t fit good or maybe their pants have a hole in them, but they can’t get new ones. Did you know there are little babies whose feet get cold because they don’t have any booties to wear?
“Do you think there is something we could do to help some kids this Christmas?
Gracie: “I would take some toys and give to them, cuz I have a lot of toys.”
Maggie: “I could give her one tea set.”

These conversations are heartfelt and are great window to see inside your children’s minds. It’s fun to hear their responses, but even better to help them start thinking about someone besides themselves. After several conversations like this, we will go shopping for the kids on our ornaments.

Last year was priceless. Imagine my surprise to witness my 2 year old and 4 year old in the toy department of Wal-Mart picking out presents for someone else. They were not throwing a fit about the toy they wanted, instead they were thinking about someone who might not have any toys this Christmas if they didn’t pick one out for them.

I hope this year’s shopping trip goes as well as last year’s, but even if it doesn’t I still know it’s important for my children to learn how to give.
I hope you can help share the spirit of Christmas with your children. There are many different ways you can involve your kids in learning how to give. Here are a few more ideas:

After having a conversation about those less fortunate than us, you could help your child clean their room. Ask them to select at least 10 items—must be good, fun items (nothing broken, etc.) to donate to charity. These could include clothing, toys, books, etc. Help them to really think about not just getting rid of extra stuff, but GIVING some of their things to another.

Invite your child to go shopping with you. Select a bag full of groceries and drop it off at your local food bank. *Did you know you can do this at any time of year? I know many people who take advantage of the buy one get one free offers and then donate the free food to the food bank!

Make a baby blanket or quilt with your child and donate it. You can make a nice baby blanket and burp cloths with only 2 yards of fabric in less than an hour. The LDS church at LDS.org has great information on all kinds of humanitarian projects you can be a part of to help the world we live in.

Read the story of our Savior’s birth in Matthew chapter one and two and talk about the wise men who gave gifts to the baby Jesus. This is the real reason we give, because we love our Savior and we want to be like him. Ask them how they can give gifts to Jesus this Christmas.

Happy Holidays!

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