Teaching preschoolers about the importance of giving and being kind
The holidays provide a perfect opportunity to discuss the concept of sharing and charity.
Watching Saturday morning television or walking through any retail store during the last quarter of the year might lead a young child (or an adult) to believe that the holiday season is all about getting, not giving. Advertising displays show the latest and greatest toy, gadget or electronic “must have.” Children, and adults, are bombarded with messages that herald that this is the time of year to buy, buy, buy, and to get, get, get! The message isn’t hidden or subtle; time is running out, only 55 days left, hurry, limited quantities, early-bird special, extended hours or something every child needs.
Children are given the subtle, and not so subtle, message that they have to have the newest popular toy, the improved and updated version of an electronic product, or the biggest and best there is on the market. Children are encouraged to make a list of all the things they think they can’t live without.
Busy families have an opportunity every day to teach about the difference between needs and wants and how gratitude includes giving as well as getting. Making time to teach that charity can be a habit and not a one-time event may seem like a monumental task for parents and caregivers who are busy with work and child rearing. Michigan State University Extension recommends encouraging children of some simple ways that families can integrate a “giving” attitude into their daily routine and way of life.
- Start today. If you haven’t included conversations about “giving” at your dinner table, then start today! It doesn’t take any extra time to replace a conversation about which toy a child has to have with a discussion about a way you might help an elderly neighbor.
- Involve children in the process. Many family decisions are made without consulting the children in the family. Even toddlers can choose a toy or hat and mittens for a child who has no doll or might be cold this winter. Most preschoolers can use a rake or small shovel to move leaves or remove snow from a path. Shopping for a family member should include children. Initiate a discussion about “why” you are buying a gift and how excited you will be to find a special item that will make the recipient happy.
- Share lessons in giving. Charity doesn’t need to include shopping and buying a big ticket item. Children can gift someone by helping with yard work, feeding birds in your yard, or making a card or picture for a long-distance relative. Children will learn that they can give themselves.
- Choose a charity. When you receive requests from charitable organization in the mail share the requests with preschool aged children. Having a discussion about why and where people can help is part of the process of teaching children to “give.” Talk about the charity; discuss what they do, and how they are helpers. Let your children help with sealing the envelope and mailing the donation for the family receiving donation.
- Be a role model. “Children learn from seeing and listening.” Pay attention to the language that you use in discussing your own wants and needs. Model the behavior you want to see from your child. Inventory your belongings and talk about who might use the things you no longer need. Let your child do the same with the overflowing toy box and then make a plan to deliver the items to a local charity. Positive role modeling takes time and isn’t always convenient, but it is always worth it.
Seek out additional role models. Bring attention to others who are “helpers.” Talk about people who go to faraway places to help when a natural disaster occurs. Use children’s books to discuss what a character did to help someone else or what they could have done instead. Explore the “bucket filler” concept where author, Carol McCloud, shares a way to teach children how easy and rewarding it is to be kind. It is natural to think about giving during the holiday season, but sharing and giving is a life time habit that can be taught to the children in your life. Make charity a part of the everyday routine for your family.