‘Tis the Season for Giving

by: Dan Florell, Ph.D.

There is a feeling of pride that wells up in all parents when they see their children giving something of theirs to another person. It is all the more poignant when children are giving something that they greatly value and reflects a significant sacrifice on their part. Young children are often looking for ways to contribute and help others’ out. The trick for parents is to have children continue their giving behaviors as they get older.

There are two ways for parents to have children get into the habit of giving to others, particularly those who are less fortunate. The first way is for parents to be hands on and model giving behavior. While giving money to worthwhile charities can be helpful, younger children need more concrete representations of giving. Examples could include putting together a care basket for someone at a homeless shelter or volunteering at a soup kitchen. The concrete behavior of giving someone something provides immediate feedback on how giving makes a positive impact in a person’s life.

The second way to have giving become a habit is to talk about it. Parents can involve their children in the discussion of how to give and its’ impact on others. They can also talk about it after a spontaneous act of giving. The idea is to both sensitize children to those who are in less fortunate circumstances and that they have the power to change those circumstances for the better. In addition, the discussion can help impart what matters most to families regarding their values.

As children get older, donating money can be incorporated into giving behaviors. Parents can instill this as part of a child’s allowance. When children first start receiving an allowance, parents can have them divide it into three equal parts with each part devoted to a specific purpose. One of those parts should be giving to charity. This provides children with their own money so that they can make choices regarding who receives the charity. This process will give parents an idea of what their child values and will spark helpful discussions regarding the process of giving.

Once children exhibit their own interests in giving, parents can assist in having them link to organizations where children can become involved and contribute in a more direct manner. Eventually giving will become a habit that often extends into adulthood.

The old adage of “it’s better to give than receive” continues to ring true as giving has a variety of positive effects on children’s development. The process of giving elevates a child’s mood and makes them feel good about themselves. It also teaches valuable lessons regarding empathy and compassion. As the holidays are well underway, give your child a present in the art of giving to others. It is a present that will have far more impact than anything that can be bought.

This article was published in the Richmond Register daily Sunday on December 8, 2013.

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