Friday, December 19, 2008

How Do You Teach Children the Spirit of Giving?

Teaching Children the Spirit of GivingDear Michelle,

I have a 14 and a 13 year-old daughter. They are a
s different as could be, which probably contributes to their mostly getting along very well but my younger daughter decided to be proactive this year and has been knitting, making soap, candles and generally preparing up a storm of gifts this year.

In contrast, my 14 year-old daughter has done nothing that I am aware of but has already received several gifts from school friends.

What do you suggest that I do for my eldest daughter? Should I encourage her to give presents to those who have given her gifts? Have her write nice thank-yous? Both? If these things had been given to my younger daughter, she would be on top of it but my elder daughter is only to happy to be on the receiving end.

Great question! In fact I mulled it over in my own mind quite a bit before answering and even dragged Andrew into the process (he was drifting off to sleep when I poked him and tried to nudge a response from him--not the best timing on my part--poor guy, I do that to him a lot).

I guess I'd say that firstly I don't think it's always necessary to give a lot of gifts. It seems that retailers have done their best to convince us that we must not only give many expensive gifts to each of our family members all the way out on the family tree to great-great uncle Bob, then there are our children's teachers, the garbage men, the postal carriers and everyone at the office.

However to be able to find someone you love the perfect gift that not only did they not know they wanted but that fits them perfectly in every way is a wonderful feeling. Or to be able to share what you have with others, particularly those in need, is something every child should experience regularly.

I sat down with the kids several years ago and helped them make out a list of anyone they'd like to give presents to. Then I helped them brainstorm ideas for gifts and since their funds were small I donated $5 or $10 to their supply chest but they had so much fun it soon became a tradition and their favorite part of Christmas (at least with the older kids, we're still working with Lillian).

So my first suggestion would be to start early in establishing those habits and expectations but what about older children?

Would you force an older child to buy gifts? Would you shame them? Would you let them do whatever they felt best, hoping maybe they'd feel stupid about not having a gift in return when someone gives them one? And in our family we don't have allowances so how do you handle the issue of kids needing money for gifts? Do your feelings about your teens giving habits change if they have a bit of spending money?

I'm very curious to hear your suggestions, not having nearly enough answers myself. How do YOU teach children that it's more blessed to give than to receive?

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Technorati tags: parenting, motherhood, parenting


Kim said...

My first instinct would be to have my daughter write a thank you note. I'd feel uncomfortable with my daughter reacting to a gift by going out and getting a gift—seems insincere maybe or taking the easy way out—so I would have her "gift" her time.

Invite the friend over for an afternoon or take her to a movie—make a gesture of friendship that shows she enjoys spending time with that person.

Patois said...

I'm one of the allowance-giving type. A rather large percentage of their allowance goes to their savings "envelopes." That's what they use to buy gifts for siblings and parents and for friends at Christmas. (They're all still young enough that I feel obliged to buy the birthday party gifts. Otherwise, they'd have nothing in their savings.) The 12-year-old has two close friends he's buying for. The 10-year-old also has two. I don't know how we'll handle it as they get older and branch out.

Anonymous said...

It's difficult to impart spirit of giving generously and by choice without being manipulative. My favorite thing growing up was we would "pixie" a family/person every year with anonymous gifts and doorbell ditch it at their house so they never knew who it was. We never knew how they liked the gift but the excitement of doing something secretive and giving was always my favorite but my older brothers as far as I know weren’t fans. So I guess the only thing to do is teach the kids how you feel and let them choose for themselves.

Stephanie said...

I don't know. At 14 I think I'd be hesitant to try to make them do anything, but would very much encourage a thank you note or maybe some homemade cookies or something small like that. I'd be hesitant to encourage her to buy something just b/c someone else bought for her. I agree with Kim that it seems insincere.

Jenna Consolo said...

Definitely thank you cards. Always a thank you card. She may not be a giver, but she should learn to be gracious and thankful.

a Tonggu Momma said...

I've always thought that the best way to get teens thinking about others is to volunteer as a family in support of a cause. Once they focus on the impoverished, the lonely, the sick... well, then it's a lot easier to help them remember those who are a part of their daily lives.

Otherwise, I agree with Jenna Consolo. Completely.

Inkling said...

My parents modeled generosity for us kids really well, and also put us in the company of older folks who knew how to invest their time and talents in us. (I remember this 80 year old couple who taught us how to make beaded ornaments and baskets. We would spend hours at their home working with beads, safety pins, and wires. We loved it, and we loved them.) Somehow, watching all of that made the three of us kids become givers in our own right. It didn't happen overnight, but as time went on all three of us continue to grow in that area - first when we were kids, and now as adults.

The other thing my parents were good about teaching us in this whole giving realm was to listen to our hearts and that still, small voice that prompts us to give to someone in particular. They didn't have us give to specific folks every year outside of family and teachers, but instead encouraged us to give how we felt led. Sometimes that meant a kid with few toys, an older person who lived alone, or someone who just looked really cold or lonely in the coffee shop.

What's cool about all of that is that it was us kids who decided to change the whole drawing names practice with our cousins. The oldest of us was just 16 when we started the new habit, but all the cousins would pool the money we would have spent on each other ($15 each), and go buy a bunch of baby and new mom stuff for a pregnancy resource center in our grandparents' town. The adults did get involved with the project by helping us find good sales and giving us money of their own sometimes, but they weren't ever the ones who spearheaded it or led it in any way. That's probably the coolest memory I have from Christmases as a teenager with my extended family. And really, I have my parents and grandparents to thank for instilling that in me without doing it in a forceful or "preachy" way.

Amanda P. said...

Something we do (that's free) is have the kids choose a few toys they don't play with anymore on Christmas Eve and leave them by the fireplace for Santa. Santa takes them back to his shop to fix them up and give them to other children who would like to play with them.

As far as older kids, I would probably encourage her to think of something she can do in return. Even if it's not a gift.
Maybe she can do their homework for them (No! I'm kidding!)

Marie N. said...

I think a thank you note is a must when a gift is received. My children grumble about writing them, but they love getting them in the mail when they are being thanked. That reminder helps.

My daughter has one friend she trades birthday gifts and Christmas gifts with since that friend moved to another state. She earns $ with extra chores and I help her shop within her budget. I donate postage though.

About a month before each birthday and before Christmas I have the children go through their toys and games. They need to pull out the things they are too big for or don't like any more. Then we decide together what is in good shape to donate to Good Will and what is best destined for the trash.

Anonymous said...

Looking at myself through a magnifying glass and to ask him, I guess I used the guilt trip :)

What I TRY to do is to always lead him to the water and let him come to his own conclusion. "Wow. That was really nice of Adrian to give you a gift. Didn't you want to give him one?" After doing that a couple times, he pretty much came to the right decision on his own. If, in fact, he really didn't want to give them a gift (and hey, it does happen, even as adults), he calls and says thanks. He says thank you cards are too girly so I do give him that leeway.

He has learned to differentiate between the "reciprocal" gift and the gift given freely and he doesn't want anyone to think that his gift to them is obligatory. That has taught him to get his act and list together early!

~TAMY 3 Sides of Crazy~ said...

This is a timeless question. I would ask that they write thank you notes for sure, that is just polite, but I would not insist they buy or make return gifts except for their very closest of friend(S).

We went through something a bit similar with our son and we started encouraging him to spend more time working with organizations at this time of the year that dealt primarily with needy children. It gave him a new perspective.

Before we moved here, I chaired an Angel tree program for FISH for many years and after he spent some time working with other kids like himself (they would help me for community service hours at school) helping kids that had so little he became a more generous and giving kid on his own.

Cathi said...

I think one of the things that teach the spirit of giving is for our youth to participate in service projects.

Daisy said...

That is a toughie. My daughter is a very generous and thoughtful gift-giver. My son is growing into that; he enjoys going shopping and thinking about the right gifts for the right people. He insists on bell-ringing for the Salvation Army each year, too. Teaching it? That's a really hard trait to instill in one who doesn't have it.

Twinsmom said...

Definitely the thank-you notes. A from-the-heart thank-you can be a gift all its own. I'm not how you would start encouraging an older child to give gifts "on her own." I started with my kids when they were old enough to do basic crafts, the Christmas before they turned 3 a few weeks later I believe, and had them roll beeswax sheets into candles. From there we progressed to shopping at the Dollar Store, and now at 13, they have both saved their allowance to buy for family and friends on their own.

MoziEsmé said...

Definitely a tough one! I struggle with the giving thing too - I hate the idea of creating clutter in someone's life, and it's so hard to find the right gifts for people who have everything that I hate even trying!

I'd say thank you notes should definitely be encouraged. But I don't like the idea of reciprocal giving.

How about just a challenge to consciously do one nice thing to someone every day for a month - it could be a gift or anything else? Help her brainstorm ideas and assist as she desires.

Mimi said...

I remember the first time I bought my family Christmas gifts. I had saved my allowance and used some money from my October birthday and went to the local drug store to make my selections. It was VERY exciting. Since my whole family knew I had used my OWN MONEY to buy gifts they made a big deal out of the silly little things I got them. When my grandfather died I found the santa-face mug I had bought him that he had saved all those years and broke down and cried.