During the holly, jolly holidays, parents and kids alike have the warm fuzzies. Our hearts are filled with good will and we’re surrounded by reminders to demonstrate gratitude.
But a giving and thankful heart is beneficial for everyone long after the tinsel and stockings come down.
Jill Emanuele, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute in New York, New York, says the children who learn to give of themselves at an early age are more resilient and resourceful throughout their lives. “Kids who learn to pay it forward create a more healthy perspective to use during stressful or difficult times,” she explains. “Their contributions help them better understand hardship and create balance, helping them to not feel powerless in hard situations.”
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Another benefit is increased self-esteem: it feels good to give. “Because it feels good to do good for others, this helps kids to have positive feelings of self-worth and value themselves more,” says Nicole Liloia, Licensed Clinical Social Worker in Ridgewood, New Jersey. “It also allows them to have a sense of pride in what they are doing and to experience increased empathy and compassion for others by being exposed to people and situations that they might not otherwise experience.”
Liloia says kids of all ages—even as young as 2—can be part of giving activities. “Parents can work with very young children to involve them in activities that are appropriate for their age and skill level.”
To ensure that giving moments have a lasting impact on your child, it’s important to keep the communication lines open. “Parents should continue to have open conversations with their children about how the work they are doing benefits others and the community,” says Liloia.
So we know the “why,” but then there’s the “how.” If your short on ideas for how to nurture a giving spirit in your child, these suggestions can help develop a heart that gives all year long.
1. Create a thankful tree.
One way to promote giving is by helping children realize the gifts they’ve received. During the holidays, use a thankful tree to share what gifts you and your children are grateful for. Decorate the tree with colored leaves cut from construction paper, and talk to your kids about the obvious things like birthday or holiday gifts, but also the cookies grandma made when she visited, the love the family cat gives or the toy their best friend shared.
Keep the tree in your living room to easily add leaves throughout the season and beyond and to remind kids of the benefit of giving.
2. Count your blessings.
When your children are having difficulty falling asleep, teach them to count their blessings instead of counting sheep. Have them recount in their head the gifts, talents and treasures they are thankful for to realize the giving spirit and generosity that surrounds them.
3. Lead by example.
Children learn by following their parents’ examples, so teach them to give by remembering to do so yourself. Watching you hold the door for a stranger headed into the mall, volunteering at an animal rescue or making dinner for an elderly neighbor sets the positive example you want your children to emulate.
4. Have them donate old toys/clothes.
When your children outgrow their clothes and toys, ask them to donate to less fortunate children. Explain to them why these children need their old toys and clothes, and they will learn to appreciate what they have and to give to those in need.
5. Write thank you notes.
Any time your child receives a gift, whether for Christmas, birthdays or other holidays, have them write short and sweet thank you notes. If they’re too young to pen the note themselves, ask your child what he would like to say while you write it down. Little ones can even draw pictures to accompany your written thank you notes if they’re still too young to write.
6. Let kids contribute.
Have your children make get well cards for a sick family member (instead of you buying one), help you set the table, or join you when you check in on an elderly neighbor. You’ll help them realize giving can come in a variety of ways.
7. Have a giving jar.
Use a large canning jar as the centerpiece of your kitchen table. Keep a pencil and paper near the jar or table and take turns writing down what you’d like to do to enrich or benefit the life of a friend, family member, stranger, family pet, etc. Whether it’s spending more time playing catch with Rover, helping a schoolmate with math, or feeding the homeless, encourage everyone to dream up a giving goal. Then, once a month (or more often if the jar fills up), take the notes out and read them aloud to share your family’s ideas for giving, and talk about what goals you might be able to accomplish.
8. Reward children with a hug.
Liloia stresses the importance of encouraging and reinforcing giving with praise. When your child exhibits any sort of giving behavior, let them know how proud you are. Give your child a hug and say, “It makes me happy when you are so generous with your time and talents!” “This positive attention will reinforce their good behavior,” says Liloia.
9. Make small sacrifices.
Practice making sacrifices with your children, such as not driving the car short distances and walking instead, or taking five-minute showers instead of long, hot ones. This makes you realize what things you take for granted every day and teaches your children to be more humble.
10. Reflect together at the end of the day.
Before your kids go to bed at night, talk to them about their day and reflect on the good deeds they’ve done. This will encourage kids to not only reflect on their days and end them on a positive note, but it also sends them off to dreamland with heads swirling with new ways to give tomorrow.