Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Works for Me Wednesday: Teaching Generosity to Children
There are certain events and holidays in which we know the kids are going to get lots of stuff. Birthdays and Christmas, especially, are times when they are given many gifts. We are very purposeful about teaching the children to be happy for other people receiving good, and keeping the focus on the religious significance of a holiday or the experience of a birthday rather than all the stuff. The problem is how to do it, when it is so easy for a young mind to see all the things and think that is what the day is about.
There are three things we do that have helped:
- 1. From the earliest age possible, involve the children in making pictures, cards and gifts for others aside from the things that come from you. We have seen the fruit of this, two examples: Alexander, in kindergarten, took his allottment of Christmas gift money to very thoughtfully buy presents for Rich, me, Dominic, Elijah and Amira. His gifts were things that were chosen specifically for each person, keeping that person's personality and interests in mind. On Elijah's birthday, this year, each older child wished to use some of his or her money to buy a gift for Elijah. They insisted on using the money they got from us as allowance or from their tooth fairy money, so the gift would be specifically from them. Of course, they still make decorated picture frames, birthday cards, crowns, pictures, and other gifts for people.
- 2. Do not give presents to each child for another's birthday.We have made a point of not giving a consolation present to any of the other children, regardless of how much they pout, when it is another person's birthday. We want them to learn that not every occasion means they have to get something, and to be happy when something good comes to another person. Likewise, we make sure they stay to watch all gifts being opened at birthday parties, rather than watching for their own and running off to eat or play, and we take turns opening Christmas presents, so that all of us can see what the other people receive and rejoice with them. The kids have done remarkably well with this. There are some people who, meaning well, give gifts to all of our children when it is one of their birthdays. We just put them aside for another holiday, their next birthday or an anytime surprise that comes on another day.
- 3. In advance of the gift receiving event, go through our things and find those items that can be given to the poor and shared with friends. This is probably the most important things we've done. We go "make room" for the new clothes and toys, by purging what we have. One of the most gratifying things I've seen come of this happened just this last week. Dominic said, after a friend of mine brought some new, neat toys to give to the kids, "I know what would make God happy and someone else happy! We can find toys upstairs to give away, so we have a place to put these." And he has started to do it. We have another bag of toys to offer to our church family, to give away on freecycle, and take to second hand shops.
The rewards of this kind of training are great. It really isn't hard, and the kids love feeling like they can give to others. It is a simple way to grow in grace, to do a corporal work of mercy and to encourage a spirit of generosity in the family. It also helps them to be giving and open handed with their siblings.
Teaching children to be generous works for me!
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