On the surface, I love the new tradition of giving guest bags at children’s birthday parties. Your kiddo shows up to celebrate someone’s birthday? They give a gift. Then later, they get a gift. It’s nice. No, seriously, it is.
Okay, fine, it started out that way. Now I’m not so sure. There have been a couple of birthday parties where parents definitely surpassed the “We understand it’s hard to give gifts so we are role-modeling giving as best we can” and ridden the crazy-train into “We are showing off” or worse, “We’re giving your kid all the sugar and we do mean all the sugar.”
It’s hard to teach tiny humans to give. I used to think it was just my tiny human who struggled with the idea, but thanks to the past two years of Montessori school, I can confidently say all parents are riding this particular struggle bus. It’s an on-going process to teach your children gratitude, mindfulness, and giving. You might win one moment when your precious graciously shares her prized Play-Skool lawnmower, but sure enough, that same precious baby will clutch another little girl’s birthday present to her chest and refuse to get out of your car because it means relinquishing said present.
Parenting…it’s awkward, no?
Regardless, it’s definitely on-going. You win one moment. You lose another. You teach one lesson and then have to repeat it a few years — or hours, ahem — later. So with that in mind, we’ve put together a game plan for you (some people might say ‘battle plan,’ but we wouldn’t because we are choosing to be positive and also because we’re still wincing over how our precious refused to get out of the car and give up her gift).
Teaching Toddlers To Give
Wow. Yeah. Is there any bar set higher? Probably not. Not only are you trying to teach your tiny human things like words and labels for his or her overwhelming emotions, but you have to teach selflessness? That’s tough.
Instead, try leading by example. Don’t just talk about how you’re going to take those old blankets to the humane society, let your toddler help you carry them inside. Don’t tell them the canned goods are for others who need them. Ask your children what they would want to eat if they were hungry. Chances are good, you’re going to get answers that won’t fit the food bank’s requirements, but you’ll also start a dialogue with your child about what others might want.
Ah, yes. Preschoolers. They might be a bit easier to negotiate with than their tinier toddler brethren, but it still comes down to huge emotions and little people. Modeling behaviors you want to see from them is still a great tool. Praising them for any positive effort toward giving is even better. Like before, you’re trying to start a dialogue. We want them to step into someone else’s shoes. Considering their development stage, you’ll have limited success so maximize your impact by narrating why you’re donating gently-used clothing or explain how people are hungry so you’re going to bring them canned goods. Then let them help you. By making your children part of the solution, they’ll feel valued and helpful. It’s one of the first steps to growing up.
Even if you haven’t had loads of success with your previous efforts to teach giving, don’t give up. Many kids are finding themselves during these years. They’re learning who they are, and just as importantly, where they fit in the community. At this age, children are reaching for even more independence and autonomy. Try letting them make charity donation choices.
For instance, many charitable organizations provide recipient bios and backgrounds. Read the information together and ask your child how it makes her/him feel. “Is this a cause you want to help?” “Is this someone who needs us?” “Is this something you feel strongly about?” Obviously, you will have to filter their options as some charities are more appropriate for young children than others, but the opportunity to strike up a meaningful conversation and life-changing donations is priceless.
These are tough years. Your tenth-grader might look like your child, move like your child…but he or she doesn’t seem to behave like your child. It’s disconcerting…for everyone, honestly. These are the years you hope they notice how you’ve led by example with your own giving, but in case they haven’t noticed, make sure you don’t fall down on your own volunteering. Leading by example is even more crucial at this age. Teenagers do hear your words (no really, they do), but they may also see a serious disconnect if what you preach doesn’t match up with how you behave.
At this point, there are a variety of opportunities for older kids to stretch themselves as they help others. You can choose to work side-by-side in food banks and during home-building projects or select opportunities where your child works on her or his own, helping with local tutoring or mentoring.
Ultimately, there are a variety of ways to approach giving, but the right one will also feel the most natural to your family. After all, this isn’t supposed to be a chore, but rather a lifestyle. Pick something that not only speaks to your family but also works for your family.