4 Ways Children Learn the Art of Giving

4 Ways Children Learn the Art of Giving

Guest Post by Marilyn Price Mitchell, Ph.D.

There is an “art of giving”? I think so. Giving is an expression of love and compassion that can be expressed through poetry or paintbrushes.

In our childhood, most of us are taught the art of generosity. My mother organized a bake-off for our neighborhood so that we could bring sweet treats to the nursing home. We sang carols and delivered goodies to the residents with several other families. I can still remember the feeling I had when I saw gratitude in the eyes of older adults, some of whom were unable to speak.

I watched in silence as my grandmother worked all year to knit colorful wool mittens. After Thanksgiving, she would help me take the mittens filled with love to a shelter for children.

These childhood memories are almost 60 years old. They still fill my mind and heart every holiday season, even though my parents have passed away. These meaningful memories of giving have become a part of who I am.

As a developmental psychologist, I now know what I didn’t know as a kid: how important giving can be to our relationships, to our well-being, and to how we interact with our communities. In my book Reclaiming the Power of Citizenship for a New Generation, I share stories of civically engaged young people reflecting on their childhood and learning the art of giving.

Danielle, aged 21, said of her father: “He never saw any social barriers. He was able to see people’s needs and act on them no matter who they were, what their background, or circumstances. He never hesitated to get dirty.” Danielle’s dad was her inspiration. It was from him that she learned to give-to take actions from the heart to make a positive difference in people’s lives.

Parents shape not only how children give back to their community but also how families give back to each other. Positive relationships are formed from these actions.

Here are four ways to inspire your children to be givers and instill values of giving, family, and citizenship into their lives.

1. The Meaning of Gift Giving: Give Voice to It

Encourage children to voice their opinions and act on them. Ask children open-ended questions to dig deeper into the meaning of giving.

  • What would gifts say if they could speak?
  • What are your favorite gifts? Why?
  • What is the real meaning of a gift?
  • What does it look like to you if there is a gifting art?
  • What’s a gift that you wouldn’t return?
  • How can you determine the value of a present?

2. Put Your Family Values into Action

Talking about giving can help identify and articulate family values. To help children develop their art of generosity, it is important to turn those values into actions.

Decide together as a family on how to transform your values into gifts for friends and family. What are the most meaningful gifts to give family and friends? Choose gifts that are meaningful to you and the lives of your children.

Don’t hesitate to adapt your business to the changing economic conditions.

3. Connecting the Art of Giving with Stewardship

Families, schools, and communities must work together to create caring citizens who are stewards of our planet. Families are vital in helping children to connect with giving and citizenship.

Children and their families can learn to give in a variety of ways throughout the year. These experiences shape a child’s personal giving style and identity. We are all stewards of each other and our natural environment. Recognizing the small but meaningful gifts that children give to their parents and siblings, their neighbors, the Earth, and others in need, you can help them discover how they are giving every day.

Families can discuss these topics and bring them to life by using conversation starters such as:

  • What is the connection between doing household chores and giving?
  • What does it mean when you leave a floral tribute or light a memorial candle to remember a deceased person? What is the connection between this act and giving?
  • How can we cultivate the art of giving at home to practice our values?
  • What is the most important thing we want in our family relationships? What would be the best way to give each other those wishes?
  • What are the benefits of recycling and other conservation behaviors to our planet? Why should we be concerned?

4. Children can be involved in community giving projects

Most children associate holidays with being recipients of gifts. According to human development studies, gift-giving reaps the greatest psychological benefits. Even young children can get involved in projects for the family that benefit others in your local community. Take your time. Allow your children to be creative.

Let children experience the joy of giving. This is a feeling that will last a lifetime.

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