There's a lot of talk during the holiday season about the joy of giving. Sayings like “It is better to give than to receive” are abundant in our seasonal folklore. But by the time the message trickles down to our children, it's often diluted by ads for the latest and greatest toy, our constant bartering for good behavior with presents from Santa, and movies and TV shows reinforcing the excitement of getting that “perfect” gift.
What we rarely see portrayed in a relatable way is the other side of it. How it feels to give someone something they truly appreciate, or even desperately need. While many families donate toys annually or volunteer with their local church to help those in need, often a disconnect remains.
If you’re struggling with how to teach your children the valuable life lesson of how it feels to give a truly meaningful gift there are a few ways that reach right to the heart and are straightforward enough to garner an interest in even the youngest little ones.
Putting a name with the need
Many group homes, churches and community outreach programs are in need of support for their holiday giving efforts. In churches you will often find individual requests from children and adults alike hung on trees like ornaments. By bringing your child and letting them choose a gift request of their own volition, their eyes can be opened to the reality of what many children go without. Kids often pick children their own age, someone they can relate to and want to imagine that child will enjoy the holiday season in the same way they will.
If you have the opportunity, “adopting” a family is a way you can involve your entire family. Community outreach programs regularly have families in need of the absolute basics of comfortable modern living.
The year my family adopted another local family in need (note: in these situations both the givers and the recipients are anonymous to each other), it was eye opening to see requests for items like laundry soap, tooth paste and new socks. My kids, who truly detest shopping, had an entirely different appreciation for the act of choosing gifts for a family not unlike our own.
Putting a face with the need
One group that is often overlooked during the holiday season is the elderly, especially those in assisted living facilities. You can have your children bake cookies and make homemade holiday cards to personally deliver to those who are sometimes spending their twilight years without a single visitor.
If your children play instruments or enjoy caroling, you can set up a time with a local assisted living facility or program for your children to share their gifts with others. Because children also need the opportunity to understand that often the gifts that mean the most do not come with wrapping paper and bows but with a genuine smile and a heartfelt hug.
Putting a personal spin on the need
Right there within your own family sits the opportunity to teach your children about giving. Instead of having your children write their own lists to Santa (or however your family celebrates this time of year), challenge them to create a list for their sibling, cousin or even you.
This turns the entire focus of the gift-grabbing mentality on its head. Now, instead of thinking about want-want-want, you have shifted your child’s conscience to considering what someone else would enjoy as a gift. They will learn the internal joy that comes from thinking about another person and finding ways to show that person they are loved and appreciated. If that isn’t the spirit of the season, then I don’t know what is.