The holiday season often brings an encouraging nudge to involve our children in charity. This is a great time to start teaching it, beginning a yearlong family habit which extends throughout the child’s life.
At Parenting Power, we believe that children live what they learn and learn what they live, therefore, the most productive way to teach charity or generosity is to practice it often. When we model it for our children, they see our words in action.
Linda Kavelin Popov, a best-selling author and inspirational speaker, defines generosity as: ‘Giving and sharing freely because you want to, not with the idea of receiving attention, a reward or a gift in return. It is awareness that there is plenty for everyone. It is seeing an opportunity to share what you have and then just giving for the joy of giving.’
This definition makes it easy to teach our children. What do they have that they can give? Do they commit a portion of their allowance to charity? Perhaps they don’t yet have an allowance. Families can begin to brainstorm things to give and share: snow shovelling, a picture, a hug, a smile, help with baking cookies, helping with the chores, a song, etc.
There are many charitable gifts that families may choose to give throughout the year. World Vision, Plan Canada and many other organizations allow you to give a donation in the name of your child’s teacher or another recipient.
Unfortunately, many parents today reward their children for giving—with a celebratory dinner or a little gift for the child. Linking an external reward with the process of giving can easily distract a child from recognizing the natural, internal reward. When your child practices generosity, if you feel the need to say anything, you can notice the act and/or ask how the child feels about the process rather than judging and over-praising the child. One of the greatest gifts we can give our children is to allow them to experience the joy of giving.
It is a familiar scene in homes across the country:
Parent: [to a child in another room] It’s time to turn off the TV!
Parent: [walking halfway to the room] Tommy, it’s time to turn off the TV!
Parent: [at the TV room] Did you hear me? Turn that off!
Parent: [red faced, stands directly in front of the TV and turns it off]
Child: [shocked, screams] WHY DID YOU DO THAT WITHOUT TELLING ME?! IT’S NOT FAIR!
Everyone knows the script. It happens the same way every day. It doesn’t have to be that way.
The next day, before the TV goes on, Mom and/or Dad are going to have a chat with Tommy: Tommy, can you tell us what happens when we go to turn off the TV? Tommy tells the story about the daily fight.
Mom and Dad continue: We don’t want to have that fight anymore so we need a new plan. We believe you are old enough to turn the TV off by yourself. Let’s plan how that will happen. You can watch your one TV show. When it is done, it is your job to turn it off. When you choose to turn it off, you are choosing to watch TV tomorrow. When you show us that you cannot turn it off, you are choosing not to watch TV tomorrow, but you can try again the next day.
Would you like help remembering to turn it off? If yes, I’ll come upstairs and pat you on the shoulder (this gets the child’s attention) and say, “It’s almost your turn to turn it off.” You will say, “Ok Mom!” You will turn it off when the show is done and we’ll head downstairs. If you choose not to turn it off, I’ll turn it off and tomorrow you won’t watch TV—then we can try again the next day. I know you can do this!
Making a plan ahead of the TV going on, agreeing on a script and consequence, going to the child and getting his attention before asking, and following through with the consequences will make this problem a thing of the past.