By Alison (Read Previous Posts Here)
This post was supposed to be about ways parents can teach their children to be thankful by encouraging them to give service. But as I thought about my experiences as a mom of five, I realized that my kids have usually been my teacher in this area. So, here are a couple ways to get out of their way and let them serve, as well as some ideas to encourage giving in your family.
1. Go with the Flow
There is one Christmas I still regret, about 5 years ago in Florida. My husband and I called our little kids together, and asked them what we should do to serve others over the holidays. They came up with some wild ideas, but we steered them towards what we had in mind. I think we delivered cookies or something usual like that. As we roamed the neighborhood, my then four-year-old exclaimed excitedly, “I know what we can do to serve! We can give some Christmas lights to that house that doesn’t have any!” I imagined the neighbor scoffing at me, thinking my gift of lights was a not-so-subtle invitation to get with the program and show some holiday spirit. I quickly doused her enthusiasm and told her that cookies would probably be better and we didn’t really know the people in that house. I remember that exchange still because I remember the look on her face and feeling even then, like I feel now, that somehow I had squashed something beautiful…a generous thought.
When kids want to present a guest with their homemade popsicle stick crafts, or bring their teacher a wilting flower from the garden, just go with the flow. It is usually our own pride that gets in the way of their generosity. Let that giving spirit thrive! Adults, who too often wonder if our gift is good enough or will impress the receiver, can learn from our kids in this area.
2. Let Them Let Go
Another weakness of mine shows up when children want to give away possessions. Numerous time friends have come down from one of my child’s bedroom saying, “Lizzy said I could have this!” I’ve looked in dismay at last month’s birthday gift and turned party-pooper, saying, ” Sure! You can borrow that for awhile and then bring it back next time.” Sure, there are times when children need to keep special objects, and we need to make sure that kids aren’t pushovers for opportunists. But more often than not, it is my price-tag awareness that swishes the child’s generosity. If I want my kids to be giving, I need to let them give.
3. “Mankind is my Business”
This classic quote from Dicken’s A Christmas Carol sums it up. While I believe that children naturally come with good hearts, they do need us to provide them with opportunities to do good things. It is a privilege and huge responsibility to raise a child that shares the world’s sorrows and feels a need to be an agent for change. It can be as simple as asking at dinner time what everyone did to help someone that day. It can be as big as sponsoring an orphanage oversees. Each family needs to do things their own way, but each child deserves opportunities to do something.
4. Walk the Walk
At least two decades ago, the day before Thanksgiving, I was standing in a grocery store line with my mom, who was happily chatting away with the checker. (She happily chatted away with everyone.) I remember listening with a bit of teenage dismay as she invited the checker to eat Thanksgiving dinner with us when she learned she didn’t have any plans. The woman smiled, but declined. She wasn’t at Thanksgiving with us, but an elderly neighbor was. She sat by my dad that afternoon and he listened to her talk for probably two hours, making her feel like the most honored guest. I don’t remember any lectures from them on being nice, but that day and many more like it are permanently in my heart.
Remember this Holiday Season that your kids are watching…be sure to teach. And even more important, remember your kids are teaching…be sure to learn.