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'Tis Better To Give


During a recent conversation, a friend asked a question that has stayed with us: How do we teach our children to feel grateful for the things they have and not feel entitled to everything they see on TV and in the media?

We look around and most of the children we know have so many things: cell phones, MP3 players, cutting-edge video games and name-brand everything. When something new comes out, TV commercials make children think they need it to be cool. How can we teach our children to not feel greedy for more, but grateful for what they have?

One way to help children recognize their advantages is to help those in need. Involving children in charitable works, especially during the holiday season, benefits them twofold. First, they see that not everyone in our world has all that they enjoy. Second, it takes some of the commercial out of the holidays and puts the focus on giving.

There are as many ways to help the less fortunate as there are ideas and people to do them. Perhaps your child can help you tend a toddler while a single parent goes shopping for gifts. Or children can offer to care for a neighbor’s dog or cat while they enjoy the holiday away. Most good things can be done in the family, and I have to say some of my favorite gifts are the kids’ coupon books, which entitle me to an extra night off dish duty or the right to give a “freebie” chore with no complaining.

During the holidays, we can also help children become more aware of those who might be alone during this festive time of year. As a family, when we are home for Thanksgiving or Christmas, we try to invite singles or others far from their own families to share a dinner to celebrate the season. Through such dinners, we’ve learned that our children love to entertain. They enjoy breaking out the fine china and linen tablecloths when guests come to visit. The old adage “the more, the merrier” certainly applies!

Many charitable organizations seek donations during the holiday season. Asking children or whole families to participate can teach kids to care about those in their community who might be struggling. The Web site www.GreatSchools.net suggests you involve your child in selecting the gift: “It’s faster for busy parents to write a check to a charity, but it has little impact on a child who can’t see where the money is going or imagine the people who benefit.”

If your children are animal lovers, for example, maybe a donation to an animal shelter might be something they would enjoy. If you are interested in donating toys, take your daughter shopping so she can help choose the toy for another child.

Each year our school’s principal, Henry Quattrini of Willow Field Elementary in Liverpool, challenges his students to do something kind for someone in the community during summer vacation. Our children have enjoyed coming up with a charity they feel close to. We team up with our neighbors and the children to collect cans, money or other items.

Our children have donated to local food shelters, the animal humane society, the Red Cross, and Vera House over the past few years. My neighbor and I have tried to include the children in each step from collecting the cans to buying the items they will donate to dropping off their gift at the charity.

Another way to teach kindness is to periodically have kids sort through their toys and books and donate (gently used) items to local children’s charities or hospitals. Some families do this once a year—for instance, after new Christmas toys are opened and children are looking for places to store them.

We are embarking on the season of giving. May we teach our children the joy that comes with being a giver and not always a receiver.

Alan and Kelly Taylor live in Liverpool with their five children. Kelly holds a master’s degree in family studies; Alan is an assistant professor in Syracuse University’s Department of Child and Family Studies.


© Family Times: The Parenting Guide of Central New York