“You can’t open the green package we’re bringing you until you put your tree up,” my grandson told us over FaceTime with the authority of the “knower of the gift”. It hasn’t been long that he’s been able to contain the secret of what’s in the package. It’s close to impossible for my grandkids to give me a gift without fighting over who will give it and ripping the wrapping paper in excited anticipation. They can’t possibly want the jar of face cream and soap they know is inside, so it must be the look of surprise and joy on my face they are anticipating.
There is no magic age when children suddenly start thinking about giving gifts to family members or friends on their own, but parents can prime the pump long before children can be expected to think about it.
As do my grandchildren, most little children love giving. This is the time to build on their excitement by including them in your gift giving. Perhaps a shopping trip together while you buy gifts for the other parent or grandparents, bringing them along when you take a meal to a sick friend, or going out of your way to give someone a lift. When they witness the appreciation of others, the meaning of generosity takes root.
Engaging young children in the process of your giving and modeling generosity towards others primes them for becoming generous human beings. A few ways to begin with young children:
with your children the organizations you contribute to and why.
- Take them on shopping trips and talk with them about what they think Aunt Becky would like to receive. Give choices and, if possible, allow them to pick the gift.
- Encourage your children to offer a gift of themselves: A private dance performance, a drawing of a favorite object or person, a handmade card, a special stone found on a walk or a trip, a toy of theirs to give away to a younger cousin, a dictated story about something they did or love about the recipient, a stick found in the shape of the recipient’s first initial, a playdoh or clay object.
- When the time comes, have them give away their bottle or pacifier to a younger child.
- Buy a special gift together for the other parent, sibling or grandparent that you pay for, but your child picks out, claims as his gift to give, wraps and makes a card for.
- After shopping together, treat your child to a hot chocolate and a cookie at a favorite café to look at your purchases and imagine what the receiver will think when he opens her present.
- Suggest brown paper bag for wrapping that your child can decorate.
It’s the joy of giving that is so important to experience. Nothing lights up a child’s face like presenting something they have found, thought up, or made, keeping the secret, and seeing that look of surprise and appreciation from the receiver of the gift. When gift-giving becomes an obligation, we become thoughtless. Gift giving becomes a burden. But if the joy of giving hangs on, perhaps the obligation will not take over.
It can be frustrating to include your children in the process especially when there is so much to do, and it would be quicker and easier to just do it yourself. But think of the investment of your time and energy as the best way to raise a generous, thoughtful child.
When your kids are going over their wish lists and begging for what they want, indulge them. There is never a problem with wishing, even when wishes are grandiose. Use this time to talk about what they think a sibling or other family member might want on their wish lists as well. Write down some ideas that come up. If they’re old enough, talk about what they would like to contribute toward or purchase for a gift.
Allowance is a critical element in raising a generous gift-giver. Start one when each child is aware of the value of money (typically around 7 or 8). A special leaf or finger painting makes a wonderful gift for just so long.
An allowance teaches the child about the value of saving and spending money—as well as its role in giving, whether to a charity or a purchase for a friend. When children have had a few years to learn the downside of spending all their money right away and the upside of saving for something special and more expensive, they are ready to use some of their money to buy gifts for others.
Tweens and Teens:
Well ahead of Christmas, Hanukkah or a birthday, ask your child if she would like to think about buying a present with her money. Perhaps you could offer some jobs for her to choose from to earn a little extra spending money. Then talk about how much seems reasonable to spend and what she could buy with that amount.
Unless a child has had an allowance and learned about the use of money, she may not be willing to let go of whatever money she has acquired. If she likes the idea of buying gifts, you can plan a special time to shop together so you can teach her about what types of things might be in her “budget.” What a wonderful life-skills lesson your little shopping spree can be. Not to mention the value of that time spent together.
Critical for the parent is not to expect consideration, thoughtfulness and generosity before it’s time. Children are 100% egocentric up until 6 or 7. And beyond that, they are still pretty self-absorbed for another 5 or 15 years. Having consideration for another is something that maturity brings and should never be forced or drummed into a young child. Criticizing your child for thinking only of himself and being inconsiderate is like complaining that your dog never helps carry in groceries.
Raising a generous gift-giver starts well before consideration and generosity can be expected. It’s up to you to nurture the potential.
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