The Art of Giving

By Karen Deerwester, Ed.S.

Children everywhere will be doing a lot of receiving this holiday season. Whether it’s Santa delivering gifts under a Christmas tree or eight presents next to a glowing menorah, children will revel in magically wrapped surprises. Parents will do their best to teach children to be gracious – to appreciate each gift and to be grateful for the generosity of the season.

In a world where “more” is better, children can easily forget their manners. The best way to teach children how to “receive” is to switch the emphasis off the gifts. Gift-giving is a wonderful part of the holidays but it is not the culmination of events. Focus instead on all the other special moments of the holidays – music, family and friends, foods, once-a-year traditions or religious celebrations.

Slow down, especially when you are with your children. Your to-do list might be unnerving. This might be the time to cancel a few everyday obligations to make time for extra holiday plans. Keep mealtimes and bedtimes relaxed by staying in the moment with your children. Allow extra time whenever opening gifts – never “open and run”. If your child has time to notice the gift and the gift-giver, the experience is not about “more” but about appreciating the moment.

Build rituals connecting gifts to givers. Teach children that gifts come from someone. Thank you notes and phone calls are tangible ways to acknowledge the gift-giver. Take pictures of your child playing with toys to send to friends and family far away. Even gifts from Santa Claus warrant some cookies and milk. Remember to include a ritual at the dinner table or at bedtime to appreciate acts of kindness.

Balance receiving with giving. Children love to give as much as they love to receive. The act of giving makes children feel capable and resourceful. They just need the opportunity. It’s up to you to create the opportunities for “giving”.

  • Collect gently used toys to donate to other children.
  • Spend time planning gifts from your child. Ask what your child wants to make or give for each person on his list – talk about what your child treasures in that person and the meaning of giving.
  • Create a thoughtful shopping-time. Children need your guidance imagining what others like versus what your child likes. This outing requires your attentive assistance and cannot be combined with other adult errands.
  • Make an event of your child wrapping her gifts, writing notes or drawing pictures, and/or making gifts to give to others. Children of all ages can decorate picture frames, t-shirts, golf towels, or hand towels.
  • Build anticipation for giving. Talk about the thrill of giving – “Daddy will be so surprised.” “Grandma will be so happy.”

It takes a little more time to include children in acts of giving as well as receiving. It is time and attention well spent. Friends and family will enjoy being around your children, unlike those not-so-adorable characters in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. You will enjoy the holidays more.

Karen Deerwester is the owner of Family Time Coaching & Consulting, writing and lecturing on parenting and early childhood topics since 1984. Karen is also the Mommy & Me director at The Ruth and Edward Taubman Early Childhood Center at B�nai Torah Congregation in Boca Raton. 

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