I want my daughter to be better than me.  I want her to have a better life than me, to have better opportunities than I had. Not that my life has been bad, not at all.  But what parent doesn’t want more or better for their children?  Most importantly, I want my daughter to be a better person than I am.  To me, that starts by learning about the importance of giving to others.  What better time of year to start teaching my 4-year-old about charity and good works than the holidays when opportunities are practically lining up at your door?

When I was kid, there were plenty of opportunities for giving.  I made the requisite visit to the nursing home every year to sing Christmas carols with my brownie troop. I often donated clothing or toys to Goodwill as a teenager.  One time a solicitor for Green Peace came to our door around dinner time and I remember my dad inviting the young man in to eat hot dogs with us.  The young man was grateful for the kindness because, not only did we not slam a door in his face, it was probably the closest thing he’d had to a decent meal in a while. That memory has stayed with me all these years because it was just a nice thing to do.

I’ve been trying to think of ways to teach my daughter about giving and for the right opportunity to arise.  This past summer when one of her friends from dance class was diagnosed with Leukemia and lost her hair due to chemotherapy, my daughter, grasping the situation as any 4-year-old would, was the most concerned about her friend’s hair.  I suggested that she grow her own hair really long and we could then cut a little of it and donate it to make a wig for other children like her little friend.  She liked the idea at first, but then she thought some more about it.  Now every time I come near her with scissors to trim her bangs, she makes sure I know that she doesn’t want to give her hair away.  Maybe it was too much too soon?

Last week, I took Zoey to Target.  I thought it would be a good time to bring up the subject of giving again since there was going to be a toy drive at her holiday dance recital on Saturday.  I told her that she is very lucky and that some children don’t have all the toys and books that she has; not everyone has parents that can afford to buy that stuff.  I tried to put it in words and concepts that she would understand while avoiding saying “Santa doesn’t come to their houses” because I knew the conversation would deteriorate into “Why? Are they on the naughty list?” and I just didn’t want to go there.

She seemed to get it at first, but then it fell apart.  I tried to steer her toward the baby toys thinking that it would help if she didn’t also want the toy (one for you, one for me!).  Guess what?  Suddenly my big girl NEEDS to have the Rock and Roll Ring Stacker too!  “I need it, Mommy!”  I tried to explain the concept of charity to her again, but she couldn’t hear me over her crying.  I realized that maybe the toy section of Target, where Santa’s Workshop threw up, wasn’t the best place for that discussion.  I scrapped the idea and sent my father on a mission the next day to get the toy for the toy drive.

Gimme! I need more babies!

Now I’m on a mission to find a way to interest my child in giving.  I know that the earlier she is exposed to it, the more likely it will become a lifelong habit.  Here are some ideas that I’m going to try next time:

  • Make giving a year round occasion, not just during the gimme-gimme-fueled holiday season.  People are hungry and need clothing and help all year round.
  • Try to plan an activity that she can touch and feel like selecting canned goods at the grocery store for the local food pantry.  Saving money to donate may be too abstract of a concept to young children. Source
  • Along those same lines, find an organization that the child can relate to.  If she loves animals, she will be more likely to help collect blankets for the animal shelter in town. Source
  • If you do choose to give at the holidays, try starting by not only asking her what she wants for Christmas, but also what would she like to give.  It will possibly get them thinking about the holidays in a way they never have before.  Source

And finally, one I wish I had thought of before…If the toy section is just too difficult for your child, steer clear of it.  Try to encourage her to select clothing or warm weather gear for a child their own age.  Even the youngest of kids can understand that fingers get cold in the winter.  Come to find out, the right amount of giving for us this year was putting mittens on the mitten tree in our local library.  No gimmes, just pure giving.

What works for you?  How do you teach your children about giving at the holidays or year round? 

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