Moving into the holiday season, it can be easy for kids to get swept up thinking about gifts they might receive. Piles of presents in stores and the constant bombardment of advertisements focused on self-gratification distract from the spirit of giving that we hope that the holidays inspire.
We can help children refocus their priorities and learn to value giving just as much as getting. Here are five tips to get started:
1. Explore their passion
Pique a child’s interest in giving by having them identify what they are most passionate about. That can transition naturally to a discussion about others’ needs.
For example, many young children are passionate about animals. If this is true of your students, help them understand the needs of animals, and that not all animals have those needs met. This can lead to exploring organizations in your community or globally that are helping animals, many of which offer concrete ways for people to support their efforts online.
All kinds of different causes might speak to an individual child: animals, bullying, poverty/hunger, the arts, veterans, the environment. Allow them to help you find the object of their generosity.
2. Leverage their talents
All children have talent. Not all children have the opportunity to exercise their own talents in service of giving, and the holidays can be a great time to connect their talent to their passion.
Children will get excited about creating gifts for others when it involves an area of competence, because it empowers them to feel proud of what they were able to produce. This addresses each of the three key questions for motivating students as identified by Vanderbilt University’s Center for Teaching:
- Expectancy – Can I do the task?
- Value – Do I want to do the task?
- Cost – Am I free of barriers that prevent me from investing my time, energy, and resources into the activity?
If your child enjoys art, help him brainstorm materials and give time and space to create art pieces for friends and family as a gift. Not only will he be more enthusiastic about taking time out of the day to create the art, he’ll have more positive associations with the act of giving it away.
3. Model the value of giving
The best models for the value of giving are the adults in a child’s life. Whenever a child can witness an adult taking time to give their time and talent to another person, it reinforces the value of giving and takes their focus off receiving.
Adults can do this both through acts of charity and through acts of giving, and acts of kindness toward friends and family. Adults can also provide models by sharing stories of individuals whose ability to give changed the lives of others.
This is a foundational principle of many classic works of children’s literature, from the Brothers Grimm folktale “The Shoemaker And The Elves” to Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree. Religious texts and more modern secular books all have amazing examples to follow, too.
4. Maintain the spirit of giving year-round
While your focus on giving may be top of mind during the holiday season, it’s important to understand that learning compassion, and learning to value giving, is something that must be taught year-round. Just like reading or math, studies have found compassion is something we can get better at with practice.
Look for intentional days to engage with the community on acts of service, like the National Service Days for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day or Sept. 11. You can respond to events that happen around you, such as natural disasters or acts of cruelty. You can also tie it to times of receipt (like birthdays or holidays), or you can just do it on your own schedule.
5. Remind children that they have a special power to give
Nearly every child has a natural heart for giving. Adults can draw it forth by providing opportunities for children to express their unique brand of generosity, over and over again.
In one cross-cultural study exploring the effects of various forms of giving, researchers found that acts of “self-giving” ― contributions that were comparatively more personal than impersonal, such as a gift of one’s own creation ― made the giver more likely to give in the future. “Emphasizing anonymity might actually suppress participation in the long run, because people who do not give the self feel less committed,” the researchers wrote.
That study focused on adults, but the lesson applies to children as well. Make every child’s gift special to them, and they are more likely to give voluntarily in the future.