“I want one,” “Give me that,” and “That’s mine” are all pretty familiar sounding phrases to most parents. A child’s world is naturally all about himself, so looking out for number one is really not selfish behavior. Children need to learn that giving is as important as taking, and although a little maturity will help get that message across, there are lots of steps parents can take to help kids understand and appreciate the importance of giving.
Understand how children see the idea of sharing and provide them with non-threatening ways to share. In her book “Children Learn What They Live,” Dorothy Law Nolte says, “It’s best to start with sharing that doesn’t involve personal sacrifice.” She suggests that letting the child distribute cookies to everyone in the family, including herself, is a good way to begin teaching that concept. In addition, Nolte suggests that parents teach children that some personal possessions, like a treasured “blankie,” are not for sharing.
Make giving a gift a part of every occasion when a child receives gifts. For example, during the holidays, help children make three lists: one listing holiday gifts they would like to receive, another listing holiday gifts they will give to family members, and a third listing gifts the family will buy for an anonymous, less-fortunate family. On a child’s birthday, make one of their gifts a donation to a charitable organization of the child’s choice.
Model the importance of generosity by sharing your time and resources. Talk about the family budget and explain how some money is set aside every month for charitable purposes and what those are. Even a small child can understand that a parent is giving up a Saturday to help clean a playground that has seen better days. By the time children are in grade school they can go along with parents who help stock a food pantry or serve meals at a homeless shelter.
Show your enthusiasm for gift giving; involve kids in the excitement of picking out just the right gift for Aunt Lucy’s birthday. Give gifts of time, such as babysitting coupons for young parents in your family. In her book “Raising Charitable Children,” Carol Weisman tells about a grandmother who asked for a special gift from her grandchildren. When they asked her what she wanted for her birthday, she told them that she would like them to do something nice for someone else, draw her a picture showing what they did, and then tell her all about the experience.
Consider a volunteer vacation. An amazing variety of opportunities are out there for families who want to spend their vacation time doing something for others. Even with just a short time available volunteering, families can make a real contribution close to home or halfway around the world. A family might find themselves part of a team sprucing up blighted areas in their own town, assisting at a children’s clinic in Romania, volunteering at a summer camp for children with special needs, or helping research scientists save sea turtles.