Around the holidays, we are bombarded with the art of giving. This can present itself in the form of Pinterest-worthy articles on fancy bow-tying and google searches for the must-have presents for 10 year olds. Yet December is also a time for many of us to reflect on giving to those less fortunate, whether within our neighborhood or across the world. Those of us with children want them to not only say, “thank you,” when given a gift, but to understand how to be grateful for what we have as well as how to give to others. The holidays are a time learn about the joy of giving beyond the wrapping paper and perfect present. The best way to inspire our children to be charitable and altruistic with their time and money is to surround them with adults who are. Parents and caregivers must be an example of the magnanimity we portend as well as choosing schools, sports teams and churches, which reflect the values of generosity and philanthropy.
In our family, we begin teaching generosity at a young age by going through our clothing and toys to pass along to friends, neighbors and Goodwill. But giving away clothes we don’t want or toys we don’t use isn’t enough to learn how to be a truly altruistic person. We have to take the next step, which is to involve our children in community outreach, like volunteering at food banks and soup kitchens, to donate what we all value — our leisure time. There is an amount of sacrifice in giving and children must experience the personal loss in using their time and energy. We need our children to see that others live differently and need help to survive and thrive. We have a deep purpose to support, love, and care for others and amazingly, this is enough of a thanks. Children need to experience the humanity of helping others without preference or praise.
When our children hear about current events like a hurricane or a commercial for UNICEF, we discuss what is going on in age-appropriate terms and ways we can help. Then we put these ideas into action. We also don’t always wait for them to ask. My children understand that others are alike in every way but the luck of their circumstances, so they go hungry. Or have to walk miles to gather water. Or cannot attend school. This perspective is important not only to appreciate what we have but to set the stage for the next generation to change the world by participating in solutions others have created as well as beginning to brainstorm how we can make a difference in the future.
With all this being said, we have to live with balance. While we give up our time and energy for others, we do not push past our resources and ability to parent the way we would wish, or children will learn resentment and lack rather than altruism. We must find in equal parts how to nurture ourselves, our families, our neighborhoods, and our world. As parents who strive to care for those beyond our home, we must also teach the life lesson of honoring our limits. Kids must learn the line between luxury and comfort, instant gratification and inner joy, exhaustion and rest. In these, our children will find their generosity and ability to change the world for the better.