The concepts of giving and getting begin at birth for children—the first getting of the love and the warmth that comes from being held and fed, as well as the giving back to parents with gummy smiles and outstretched arms. The development of empathy—the feeling of the feelings of others—and emotional and moral intelligence begin in those moments. As a child’s world expands, she must work through the challenges of discovering what’s “mine” and the need to share and give to others. Children learn about giving from adults who value sharing, caring, and helping others, who model generosity, and who encourage children’s opportunities to experience caring and helping.
And what of the gifts? Children are born astonished and are easily pleased by the gift of the warm breeze or cool water, the found grasshopper, the box to crawl in, and the paper to tear and rustle. Giving is not about commercial value, and we are responsible for teaching children the gift of wonder and enthusiasm for life. By giving to someone who has a little less and appreciating beautiful things we are given be it the smallest token, children find the joy in giving and receiving. There is empathy, compassion, and goodness in children just waiting to come out.
As parents, it’s just natural for us to want to give our children the things we didn’t have, and in a world of “more is better,” it’s easy to confuse the wants of our children with their actual needs. Often we respond to every “I want” because we can and it makes us feel good, not necessarily because we should. There are an infinite numbers of toys and treats, goodies and games. And no matter how much of these our children have, there will always be more that they want, and a friend who has more than they. In our culture, we have so much. How can we teach our children to moderate their wants, be thankful for what they have, and to give to others?
- Even though you may be able to afford it, try not to get in the habit of buying your child something every time you go in a store, even if it is gum or candy they want.
- When you are shopping and allow your child to buy something, avoid giving your child too many choices. When you go to a store, try letting your child make a selection just from the book aisle or the arts and crafts area.
- Actively teach your children as they mature that media advertising is trying to shape our thinking to want more and more.
- Make quality family time the major holiday goal that children look forward to, even in shopping expeditions; matching the shopping goals to the developmental level of the child.
- Encourage your child to give to a child in need through Toys for Tots or other similar programs, and include that in the shopping goals.
- As a family, model restraint and sharing with the less fortunate through local programs to aid the impoverished and homeless here and in other countries. If you don’t have a favorite charitable organization that your family gives to, visit the Bright Horizons Foundations of Giving Web site to learn ways your family can get involved.
Giving the Gift of Ourselves
“It’s better to give than to receive” is an old adage that we’ve all heard, but the American Psychological Association includes an article in Psychological Science titled “Giving to others linked to longer life.” The article suggests that helping others and giving support and assistance to others may increase your life expectancy by at least five years. A stretch? Maybe. But if you and your child shovel the snow from your elderly neighbor's sidewalk this winter, you may be doing yourself, your child, and your neighbor a favor.
We can start with the very small and teach our children about giving of themselves. Young children can give a kind word, offer a smile, share a toy, draw a picture, write or dictate a note, or comfort a friend or family member. And as they grow, so will their generosity. No matter what they have, our children can always give their caring and their time.
For more information about raising a giving child and to learn ways that your family can help others in need, please visit the Bright Horizons Foundations of Giving Web site.