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Monday, December 21, 2015

Mommy Monday: teaching the joy of giving

This past weekend I took the girls on our second annual trip to the dollar store to buy presents for them to give to other family members and friends. Although many of the gifts are still pretty random, I was pleasantly surprised with how appropriate and thoughtful many of the items the girls picked out actually were! I thought today I would share this little tradition in case others with young children might want to add it to their family Christmas traditions too.

Like many other parents, I'm sure, I have thought often about ways to try to encourage the spirit of giving rather than receiving at Christmas time. When I became a parent I quickly realized that, as a society, we have a double standard in this regard. On the one hand we expect adults to be focused on giving rather than receiving- just look at all of the heartfelt videos posted on social media this time of year- and we would look down on any grownup who went around telling everyone what they want for Christmas. And yet we expect the exact opposite of our children. We take them to go tell Santa what they want, have them make lists, even put little elf dolls on the shelf to determine whether or not they should receive any gifts. It is the one question shopkeepers, friends, and random strangers on the sidewalk want to ask my children: "So what do you want for Christmas?". Never once has anyone asked my children what they are getting for other people.

I actually think this double standard is coming from a very well-meaning place: we are indulging our own desire to give. Because honestly, who are the most fun to buy for? Kids. We grownups can't get enough of their squeals of delight and happy hugs, so we encourage them to tell us what they want so that we can get it for them!

Of course the other reason we don't always think to encourage giving in young children is that they don't have any income. One option is to have children make something to give to friends and family as gifts. I have done some of those with my daughters in the past and I am here to tell you that it can be a real headache getting 2 and 3 year olds to make 5 or 6 crafts, especially if you want them to make the same thing over and over again for different people! Let's just say it doesn't really encourage joy. So until the girls are a little bit older, I've come up with the dollar store solution.

The most important element of this shopping trip is actually the way we talk in the weeks and months beforehand. Instead of constantly asking them what they want to get for Christmas, we talk about what they want to give other people. After we visit with someone, talk to them on the phone, or see their photograph, I ask the girls what they want to give them for Christmas. It really helps them to get excited about giving!

About a week or so before Christmas we go to the biggest dollar store in town and we go through the list of people to whom they want to give a present. Part of what I love about this process is the conversations that inevitably happen when they pick out a Barbie-esque doll for Uncle Joe. It is a constant reminder to put themselves in the other person's shoes and think about what the recipient would like rather than what they want themselves.

The best part? I get those same happy hugs and squeals of delight as they take home their gifts to wrap and hide, and the recipients get them again when the gifts are presented- they are so proud of the gifts they have picked out to give! Sure, they are absolutely still excited about the gifts they receive, but it feels good to know that they are getting to experience the joy of giving as well.

Do your young children give gifts to others? How do you encourage a giving spirit in your children? Share your thoughts below!

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