As the holidays approach, parents often find themselves confronted with an endless stream of media enticing their children to want, want, want” things they believe they “must, must, must” have. Parents can almost feel resentful rather than joyful as the season begins, and worry that their children may be missing the true meaning of the holidays.
Many families want the holidays to be a time for sharing their gratitude, appreciation and kindness towards others. Often the recipients include family members, friends, teachers and neighbors. The list of recipients also includes those they do not personally know, but whom they want to touch through donations to those in need or to worthy causes. The holidays provide parents with a great opportunity to teach their children the importance of being charitable.
Help Children Understand the “Bigger Picture” of Giving
The general message behind such generosity is that you give to those less fortunate than you. Some children, especially younger ones, may find this concept a little confusing, especially if those experiencing the hardships do not directly touch their own lives. For example, children may not fully comprehend what it means to donate money to the Red Cross to help victims of a natural disaster. Instead, they may find it easier to understand giving a bag of cat food to a local animal shelter where they can actually see the animals. This act makes it real for them.
Another way you can help your children understand what it means to give is to start by teaching them the importance of sharing. Often, when you think of the word “sharing,” you picture dividing tangible things like splitting a piece of cake with someone or letting friends play with toys. Even these small examples of sharing can help your children understand, in simple and concrete terms, what it means to be charitable and generous.
Younger children are working on the task of ownership, so a concept like sharing may not come easily to them. You may need to “catch” them in the act. You can praise them for their generosity and acknowledge how it makes them feel when they are kind and they share. As your children grow, you can encourage them to think about what others’ needs might be and how they could help them. You can congratulate your children for developing their altruistic side.
Taking it a step further, you can use these examples from your children’s lives to broaden the concept of sharing. You can say, “Remember when we cooked a meal for our neighbor who was sick? That was very kind of you. You helped both me and her. I bet it made you feel really good to be a part of it. That is what it is like when we donate money to a charity. We are sharing something we have with someone who really needs it.”
Model and Share
One of the most important ways that you can teach your children is through modeling a behavior you would like them to exhibit. This is especially true when it comes to generosity. If you are writing a check to one of your favorite charities, let your children know what you are doing and why. If you are participating in a fund-raising event for an organization with which you are involved, let your children know. If you can take your children along to help you when you give your time to helping others, then they can experience first-hand what it feels like to give their time to contribute to a cause.
Another way of teaching your children to become generous involves your sharing parts of yourself with them. You can tell stories about your life, especially those involving times when you were charitable or were the recipient of charity. You can talk about things you did through school, scouts or places of worship. You can talk about giving of your time as well as your money. By sharing your stories, you not only serve as a role model, but you also let them know you more deeply as a person. You will build stronger relationships with them which will allow you to continue to be a strong influence in their behavior and their lives.
Remember also that you can model generosity by being generous to your children. This can take the form of spending extra time with them, doing little extra things for them (for example, making them hot chocolate on a cold winter day) or buying them a small toy that they really wanted. These kinds of acts on your part can fill up your child’s “feeling good reservoir” so that he can more graciously give to someone else.
The goal of each of these techniques is to make the process of giving a natural part of your children’s lives. When being generous feels personal and gratifying for everyone in the household, your children are more likely to grow into kind, charitable and giving adults.By Deanna Bosley, Certified Parenting Educator
For more information about gratitude and values, check out the following books. Purchasing from Amazon.com through our website supports the work we do to help parents do the best job they can to raise their children.
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