Parenthood gives the term “generosity” a whole new meaning, especially around the holidays. We enjoy giving to our kids – but our children may not always receive gifts with grace or give with a generous spirit. Here’s a guide for parents on teaching kids about giving with heart.
Preschool years, ages 2-5
Don’t expect toddlers and preschoolers to enjoy the annual ritual of shopping for and giving gifts to others, says parent educator and mom Vicki Hoefle, author of Duct Tape Parenting. With a still-under-construction sense of empathy, young children simply don’t yet understand the joy of giving, because they can’t conceptualize others’ feelings.
Adults can help tots learn to enjoy giving gifts as much as they enjoy receiving them, though.
“If young children watch important adults in their lives give gifts with joy, over time they will begin to model this behavior,” says Hoefle.
And don’t reprimand a young child who tries to help you open a gift from him. Including the child in the gift-opening experience allows him to experience the joy of giving with an important adult in his life.
Elementary years, ages 6-12
As school-age kids become more aware of and interested in material possessions, parents can take steps to prevent an avalanche of “I want!” When kids start dreaming up most-wanted gift lists, promote a balanced sense of give-and-take by asking them to write what they plan to give others, enlisting siblings in “secret” missions to uncover a brother or sister’s toy wishes, and asking kids to help plan homemade gifts for neighbors and teachers.
As school friendships blossom, a child could give a gift but not receive one. Embrace a teachable moment, says parent coach Auria Chamberlain of North Carolina.
“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. Remind her a present isn’t given with an expectation of getting one back.”
Teen years, ages 13-18
Teens can and should take responsibility for planning and buying gifts with their own money, says Hoefle. In fact, it’s central to becoming mature, thoughtful givers. Paying for the gifts teens give others, micromanaging or writing their name on a present they had no part in undermines their investment – and enjoyment – in the holiday season.
Volunteering with teens shifts the spotlight off gifts and onto helping others. A teen can helm an “adopt a family” project, sort clothes and toys to donate to a shelter or prep cards and care packages for overseas military, says Chamberlain. “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.”
Did you find this advice helpful? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
This post was originally published in 2014 and is updated regularly.
Illustration by Mino Watanabe