It’s the holiday season, and that means gift exchanges with family and friends. If you’re finding that your child’s wish list is a mile long (and growing), it may be time to start putting the idea of charitable giving into motion. But instead of simply discussing it with your family, consider the power of practicing what you preach.
“We can talk about being kind and generous for days,” says Ava Diamond, director of wellness and counseling at the Elisabeth Morrow School and psychotherapist with Diamond Mind Strategies. (www.elisabethmorrow.org) “When we make giving more important than getting supported by action, it becomes experiential learning for our children.”
To help your child up his kindness quotient in the coming weeks and beyond, consider these expert tips for year-round giving.
Planting the Seeds
According to experts, kids can begin demonstrating kindness at a very young age, simply by the way they interact and bond. “They get great joy from sharing their food with you or showing you something of significance to them,” says Darby Fox, child and family therapist. (www.darbyfox.com) “These are acts of connection and kindness.” Think about your little one reaching over to pop a Cheerio into your mouth—how you respond has more meaning than you may realize. Fox says these teachable moments can happen as young as 7 or 8 months of age.
As your child gets older and begins to develop a sense of self, you can find more opportunities to introduce them to the world outside their small group of classmates, siblings and other family members. Start by taking a look at what’s familiar—their home—and how their belongings might be beneficial to others, such as donating books or toys they no longer use. “Parents can emphasize this in how they frame the idea, such as ‘I think you’ve outgrown this toy or jacket. Maybe we should donate it so that another child can enjoy it the way you have,’” says Fox.
Alternatively, going to the store with your child to pick out a gift, or scouring the pantry together to donate to a food drive, gets kids involved. Taking them along to drop off these donations enhances the experience even more by allowing them to see exactly where their contributions are going. And if a volunteer thanks them for their donations in person? All the better.
Managing Indulgences; Giving Back
If you are blessed with a generous network of family and friends that love to shower your child with presents, consider yourself lucky—and then show your child how to express their gratitude. Help them write a short thank you note to acknowledge the gift giver’s thoughtfulness, or for younger kids, ask them to draw a picture that shows them using the gift.
To minimize presents overload down the road, consider other gifting ideas, such as Secret Santa or a Yankee gift swap. “Other families opt for a shared experience that promotes quality time over a material item, such as a potluck dinner or a movie outing,” adds Fox.
And once the decorations have been stored away and the New Year begins, remind kids that being charitable doesn’t end with the season. Inspire kids to give year-round by introducing them to causes for which they can volunteer. Tap into their interests as they age by donating time to a local animal shelter or by sorting clothes at a local church or community center. Fox stresses the importance of charitable giving as more than just a monetary donation. “Giving of one’s time is one of the best ways to reinforce the notion of giving,” she says.