Tips for Raising Good Kids
Parenthood gives the term “generosity” a whole new meaning, especially around the holidays. As parents, we enjoy giving to our children (even when it involves building a three-level dollhouse with a working elevator at 12:47 a.m. on December 25). But our children may not always receive gifts with grace, or give with a generous spirit. Here’s a guide to raising kids who give from the heart.
Elementary Years 6-12: Give and Take
As school-age kids become more aware of and interested in material possessions, parents can take steps to prevent an avalanche of “I want!” from burying the entire season. When kids start dreaming up their own most-wanted gift list, promote a balanced sense of give-and-take by asking kids to write down what they plan to give to others, enlisting siblings in “secret” missions to uncover a brother or sister’s toy wishes, and asking kids to help plan a homemade holiday gift to give to neighbors and teachers.
As school friendships blossom, holiday gifting can stir up hurt feelings (who hasn’t experienced the embarrassment of a one-sided gift exchange?). If a child gives a gift to a friend but doesn’t receive one in return, embrace the teachable moment, says Greensboro, North Carolina parent coach Auria Chamberlain, LCSW. “Begin with an open dialogue with the child, and acknowledge feelings of being upset. Help your child remember the joy she gets from the friendship, and remind her that a present isn’t given with an expectation of getting one back.”
Teen Years 13-18: Giving Spirit
Teens can and should take responsibility for planning and buying gifts with their own money. In fact, doing so is central to becoming mature, thoughtful givers. Paying for the gifts teens give others, micromanaging what they buy, or simply writing their name on a present they had no part in picking out undermines their investment—and enjoyment—in the holiday season.
Volunteering with teens is a fun, meaningful way to shift the holiday spotlight off gifts and onto helping others. A teen can helm an “adopt a family” project at home, school, or church, or help bake cookies or sort clothes and toys to donate to a local shelter. Teens can plan a day to prepare holiday cards and care packages for overseas military or less-fortunate members of their local community, says Chaimberlain. “Giving to charity weaves a deeper meaning into the holidays, and helps kids appreciate all they’ve been given, whether the gifts are big or small.”
Malia Jacobson is a nationally published journalist and mom of three. Her latest book is Sleep Tight, Every Night: Helping Toddlers and Preschoolers Sleep Well Without Tears, Tricks, or Tirades.