One of the most important things we can do as parents are to teach our children the importance of giving to others and expressing gratitude.
What a perfect time of year to make giving your family focus.
A desire to give comes from first feeling gratitude. As parents, our first instinct is often to point out how much more blessed our children are than others. This is not the best way to teach our children to be generous. Telling our children that kids in a different country are starving might get them to eat their dinner, but it won’t inspire them to give their dinner to others. Instead, we want to encourage them to recognize what they are thankful for.
Here are a few things we can remember when it comes to raising giving children.
Start when they are young
The spirit of giving will become natural to our children when they start recognizing the blessings in their lives and expressing gratitude. Waiting until your children are teenagers is too late. Start very young and teach your children “please” and “thank you”. Help them work on sharing, and role-play showing empathy and concern for others’ feelings and belongings. At first, we will have to coach them along. And they might simply say the words out of habit. But that habit will turn into genuine gratitude and thankfulness over time. It won’t take much and they will be expressing gratitude and giving to others, all on their own.
Be a good example of giving
Do we complain and gossip? When we are asked to help others, do we moan or sigh under our breath? Or do our children regularly hear us saying “please” and “thank you” to others. Do they see us serving others and expressing gratitude when people do kind and thoughtful things for us? What we do, will always speak louder than what we say. Do we live a giving life, If so, we are much more likely to have children who are grateful and willing to give to others?
Take opportunities when they arise
Just yesterday my daughter and husband were driving home. My husband saw a little boy in a wheelchair, trying to make his way home from school on the snow-covered sidewalk. They stopped and got out to help him. He and our daughter pushed the boy the ¼ mile home and dropped him off at his front door. Instead of letting the kind deed stand-alone, we talked all about what we are grateful for (our legs, our health, good timing to see others in need), and how we can use those things we have been blessed with, to bless and give to others. We helped our daughter express how the kind deed made her feel. And invited her to find ways to feel that special spirit of giving again.
Our children don’t have enough experience to always understand the good feelings they have when they give to others, or when people do kind things for them. By taking advantage of the opportunities as they present themselves, we will naturally fill our daily family conversations with experiences and feelings of gratitude and giving. Expressing gratitude for the everyday, often small, ways family members serve one another, will also foster a spirit of giving.
Don’t wait for someone to ask you and your family to give, go out and find opportunities. During the Christmas season is a perfect time. Whether it is a food bank or your neighbors, create and carry out service and give to others. Then, instead of stopping when the tree comes down, make giving to others part of your regular family activities. Commit to giving once a month, whether it is to the same organization, or you change things up every month. Making it an intentional family focus will teach your children that you value giving to others, and they will grow to value the same thing.
Just Say “No.”
Even if we have the means, we shouldn’t give our children everything they ask for and want. That is not the best way to raise giving children. When we spoil our children they are no longer grateful for what they have. Our children don’t always need a new toy, book or treat. Plus this teaches our children that life is about getting things, instead of giving.
4 Specific ways to inspire children to help others
During this season of giving, take a few minutes to find ways your family can make giving a part of your everyday. Although raising children who give, is a yearlong, life -long pursuit, the Holidays are a special time when giving is in the air. Our family has four favorite ways we like to cultivate the giving spirit during the Holiday Season.
Instead of having our kids write a wish list. We all sit down and write a ‘Giving List’. We write down all the things we can give to other people. They might be ways we can give service or materials objects we can give. This helps our children stop focusing on all the things they want, and helps them look outside themselves and recognize the needs of others. Instead of worrying about what they are going to get, they worry about what they can give. We try to give away everything on our lists before Christmas day.
Empty the ‘Thank-you Basket’
At the beginning of December, we fill a basket with blank thank you cards, envelopes, and pens. The object is to empty the Thank-you Basket before Christmas Day. What does this mean? It means each and every day, all our family members are more aware of the people around us who we can thank for their service, help, and kindness. Our children and my husband and I write to thank you notes each day as we work our way through the basket. It is a great way for us to re-focus on what is most important, the people around us, instead of what we want.
Every night at dinner, after the prayer on the food, we pass around our ‘Family Gratitude Journal’. Each person writes one thing they are thankful for that day. Then at the end of every month, I do a summary of all the things each of us was thankful for. During the month of December, after we write what we are thankful for, we read through the month’s summaries. It is a good reminder of all the blessings we have received and takes our minds off all the “getting”.
Our oldest daughter has a birthday in December. When we send out invitations, we ask all her little friends to bring a canned food item to donate. Then as a family, we drop off the donations. It is so fun to get everyone involved. Every other year, instead of bringing a gift for our daughter, we ask the attendees to bring an unwrapped gift that can be donated instead. This has made a meaningful impact on our daughter. She associates her birthday with giving and helping others.
These activities always help us focus on giving. We can see the positive effect they are having on our children as they turn theirs hears towards other people. I hope they help your family too as you are trying to raise giving children.