You don’t need the zillions of toy-related commercials this time of year to remind you that it’s difficult to keep kids from turning into mindless consumers. What can we expect, when they’re constantly bombarded with more and more things to want or need?
But you don’t have to throw in the towel on raising selfless, generous kids. Implement some of these eight tips this holiday season, and your kids might become just a little more generous in the coming weeks.
1. Be the Example
Any time you want to cultivate a character trait in your kids, be sure you’re cultivating it in yourself. Kids notice more than we think they do. So if you’re grudging about loaning your car to a family member, they’ll be less likely to loan a toy to a friend. If you have trouble forgoing a luxury purchase in favor of a charity, they will, too.
On the flip side, if you’re a cheerful giver, your kids will likely emulate it. So find ways to be generous, whether with your time, your money, or your talents this holiday season.
2. Talk About It
Just as kids notice more of our actions than we think they do, they also understand more of our stories and higher-level conversations than we assume. So don’t be afraid to talk to your children, even the young ones, about why it’s important to be generous.
Tell stories about times when others were generous to you. Or connect older kids with news stories about poverty and worldwide problems, while talking about how their giving can make a positive impact on the world.
3. Get to Know the Less Fortunate
You can talk until you’re blue in the face about how fortunate your children are to live in a home with heat, three square meals a day, Internet access, a host of luxury items. But until they encounter poverty and need in person, they won’t truly get it.
So find ways over the holidays to connect kids to those who are less fortunate. Serve dinner at a local soup kitchen. Take Christmas gifts to a struggling local family. Stop and talk to the homeless guy on the street.
These things are more valuable than making an anonymous donation online, or tossing toys in the Goodwill bin. Children are naturally empathetic (despite appearances to the contrary when they’re fighting over the Wii), and seeing people in unfortunate circumstances can stir true generosity - the kind that comes from the heart.
4. Teach the Value of Money
Sometimes, kids get the gimmes because they don’t understand the value of money. And how could they understand, unless they experience money in a concrete way?
If you don’t already, try giving your kids an allowance - or commission - throughout the year. Then over the holidays, give each child some money to spend on gifts for others. Buying toys for a best friend or sibling can show a child how much it takes to get all those presents under the tree. This can be a huge eye opener for older children.
5. Sponsor a Child
Kids particularly love helping other kids, and one excellent way to do that is by sponsoring a child through an organization like World Vision or Compassion International. These organizations let you sponsor individuals, and your donations help kids get proper nutrition, clothing and education.
The wonderful thing about sponsoring a child is that your kids can connect with another kid who is, underneath it all, just like them. Your family can choose a child to sponsor based on location, age or even birth date. And when you start your sponsorship, you can connect more deeply by writing letters to the child you sponsor; most of the time, your sponsored child will write back.
The long-term connection that sponsoring a child has can really make an impact on your children’s sense of generosity and global connectedness.
6. Let Your Kids Find Ways to Help
Instead of telling your kids how to give back this holiday season, give them the job of finding ways to give. They can get online to research charities to donate to, or keep an ear open around friends and family members in case they hear of someone having a difficult time financially.
This puts the power in the hands of your kids. You might be surprised at how quickly they find big and small ways to be generous.
7. Serve Together
Your kids need to know that generosity isn’t all about your bank account. Even if they don’t have money to give, they can give back through service.
And what better way to teach them this than by serving together as a family? Check out VolunteerMatch.org to find volunteer opportunities in your area.
8. Cut the Clutter, and Give Back
Because your children are probably on the verge of a major influx of new toys, books and clothes, now is an excellent time to unclutter while donating to the needy.
Getting kids to give away toys can be particularly hard. They may feel an emotional attachment, even to toys they rarely play with anymore.
So instead of dictating which toys your kids need to give away, set a target for them. For instance, for every two toys your child keeps, they must give one away. This cuts the toy clutter by a third and gives kids the power to choose how they want to be generous with their possessions.
If you can find a way to donate at least some of the most gently used toys in a more personal way - perhaps by giving outgrown toys directly to a younger child you know - you’ll help your kids see the benefits of donating their things even more.