Parenting: Teaching children to give during the holiday season

December 22, 2011

Her reply: "I want to go to charity so I can get a lot of toys."

At that point, I realized I needed to teach my children more about the importance of giving. It can be a difficult lesson for children to learn, when so much of the holiday season is focused on telling Santa Clause what gifts they want to see under the tree on Christmas morning.

94-percent of Americans believe "parents play a key role in getting children involved" in charity efforts, yet 70-percent of parents admit their children are not involved in any charitable activities, according to the 2000 Cone/Roper Raising Charitable Children Survey. So how can you teach your children that it is more important to give than receive? Alexis Boian, Executive Director of the Young Philanthropists Foundation (YPF), says instead of just talking about charity, let your children see what you do to make the world a better place.

"The number one place children learn to give is in the home," says Boian. "When asked by parents how to 'teach' giving, my first response is always 'What do you do to give back?' and 'Do they see you do it? Is there an opportunity for them to do it with you?' Creating a culture of giving in the home is very important."

Family therapist, Carleton Kendrick, suggests parents be "concrete," rather than just writing a check or dropping coins into a collection box. Although those donations can make a difference, many young children can't understand where the money goes. "Take as many steps into the act of giving as you can," advises Kendrick, " it's easier for kids to see what they're doing when they buy items to donate with you, then deliver them to a food bank, and put them directly on the shelves."

Kendrick also suggests giving non-material gifts, with random acts of kindness, and discussing those actions. "Make sure they understand the value of 'gifts of time' by asking questions like, Which do you think meant more, the groceries we delivered today or the nice time we had talking with the woman who needed the food?"

One way my family tries to teach our children about giving, is periodically gathering up old toys and donating them to charity. It can be a painful process, since kids have a tough time parting with even the oldest toys. I explain that toys like to be played with and there are lots of children who have no toys of their own. We also have them create homemade cards and gifts for family and friends.

Happy Holidays (and happy parenting)!


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