A Gift Every Child Should Give

T’is the season.  The question is what the season is about.  Ask many children and the sole focus is the long list of toys they want and feel they’ve earned by being “good” throughout the year.  They write letters to Santa asking for all the new gadgets advertised on TV or seen in store windows or at friends’ houses.  They beg parents and grandparents for everything that tickles their fancy.  Christmas has become, after all, about them.

Some children will also know the gift of giving by helping family buy or by making gifts to give to those they love.  Younger kids may paint pictures, older kids may use their own money to buy things.  Giving hopefully is also a part of your child’s Christmas experience, regardless of age, as their awareness of how to give is essential to them becoming kind and generous human beings.

However, even for families where the children freely give to other members of the family, one gift is often left out: Charity.

For many families, hiding the need for charity at Christmas time is something that is almost second nature.  We want Christmas to be a time of nothing but joy and happiness for our children and making them aware of the very real issue of poverty and pain that this time of year causes for many is something we hope to protect them from for as long as possible.

We shouldn’t.

Hiding our children from the needs of others does nothing but reinforce the idea that these individuals don’t deserve the type of care and consideration we afford our own children and those close to us.  The key to bringing up these rather depressing and adult-like topics is to do it in a way that empowers our children instead of scaring them.

Be honest but not brutal.  We have a weird tendency in our society to think that honesty has to be brutal honesty and that’s simply not the case.  When we talk about poverty to our kids, we don’t need to paint the picture as being as bleak as it likely is, but rather be honest that some families don’t have the means to provide as your own family does and might need some help.  Depending on the age of your child, you may give more or less information about what this looks like.

Focus on the good that’s done.  Pointing out that there are services and societies set up to help these people is one way to help our kids process what’s happening.  It’s not all doom and gloom when they can see the people in their own community who work to help those who need it.  Instead they see a negative that is coupled with an immensely powerful positive image of love, care, and empathy.  If possible, take your child to talk to someone who works or volunteers for a charity near you, like the food bank, to hear about all the amazing stories of people being helped and how good that feels to know that acts of kindness make such a large difference.  This simple extends Mr. Rogers’ about looking for the helpers to our everyday lives, not just in moments of crisis.  Helpers are empowering.

Involve your child in helping.  The reason I say charity is a gift all children should give is that the earlier we start involving our children in helping, the more they can see how much of a difference they can make in this world and incorporate that mindset into their everyday living.  Starting off with charity does not mean your child has to give up his/her money right away or do something dramatic.  It can simply start with them making a choice as to which charity the family donates to one year.  Or having your child pick three gently used toys to donate over the holidays.  Making it small and doable is what will enable them to not feel resentment about helping while being able to see the good that comes which should reinforce doing more in the future.  Never underestimate the power of that feeling one gets after knowing one has helped.  It’s no different in our children and so allowing them to have that at a time of year that is really supposed to be about bringing joy to everyone is one of the greatest gifts we can give them and have them give.

By Tracy Cassels

December 21, 2015