Posted by: Michelle Mitton | December 19, 2008

How Do You Teach Children the Spirit of Giving?

Teaching Children the Spirit of GivingDear Michelle,

I have a 14 and a 13 year-old daughter. They are as different as could be, which probably contributes to their mostly getting along very well but my younger daughter decided to be proactive this year and has been knitting, making soap, candles and generally preparing up a storm of gifts this year.

In contrast, my 14 year-old daughter has done nothing that I am aware of but has already received several gifts from school friends.

What do you suggest that I do for my eldest daughter? Should I encourage her to give presents to those who have given her gifts? Have her write nice thank-yous? Both? If these things had been given to my younger daughter, she would be on top of it but my elder daughter is only to happy to be on the receiving end.

Great question! In fact I mulled it over in my own mind quite a bit before answering and even dragged Andrew into the process (he was drifting off to sleep when I poked him and tried to nudge a response from him–not the best timing on my part–poor guy, I do that to him a lot).

I guess I’d say that firstly I don’t think it’s always necessary to give a lot of gifts. It seems that retailers have done their best to convince us that we must not only give many expensive gifts to each of our family members all the way out on the family tree to great-great uncle Bob, then there are our children’s teachers, the garbage men, the postal carriers and everyone at the office.

However to be able to find someone you love the perfect gift that not only did they not know they wanted but that fits them perfectly in every way is a wonderful feeling. Or to be able to share what you have with others, particularly those in need, is something every child should experience regularly.

I sat down with the kids several years ago and helped them make out a list of anyone they’d like to give presents to. Then I helped them brainstorm ideas for gifts and since their funds were small I donated $5 or $10 to their supply chest but they had so much fun it soon became a tradition and their favorite part of Christmas (at least with the older kids, we’re still working with Lillian).

So my first suggestion would be to start early in establishing those habits and expectations but what about older children?

Would you force an older child to buy gifts? Would you shame them? Would you let them do whatever they felt best, hoping maybe they’d feel stupid about not having a gift in return when someone gives them one? And in our family we don’t have allowances so how do you handle the issue of kids needing money for gifts? Do your feelings about your teens giving habits change if they have a bit of spending money?

I’m very curious to hear your suggestions, not having nearly enough answers myself. How do YOU teach children that it’s more blessed to give than to receive?

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