Emphasizing Giving over Receiving During the Holidays
A few weeks before Christmas, my 6-year-old lamented the lack of presents under the tree. This was pretty new to me, since up to this point, the kids had really been too young to conceptualize just how much this season can be about what they get out of it. But this past year, whenever they saw something they coveted at a store, they’d add it to the working list of what they want for Christmas or their birthday. Of course, both these events are times in our house when they receive gifts, but in neither case do I want that to be the emphasis for them. I decided to more consciously work with them to first and foremost appreciate the opportunities for giving that the season can afford, because giving to me, is the true gift.
Giving is not a wholly altruistic event, nor does it have to be to still be sincere. Research has shown that the act of giving can make us happier, emphasize gratitude, and promote social connection. This year, with our heads now firmly out of the sleep-deprivation fog of the toddler years and ready to take on a little more, we decided to work with the kids to make and deliver boxes of cookies to a list of people we wanted to express our gratitude to. The point was not the cookies (some supplemented by our local grocery store because it turns out we weren’t that out of the fog), but the process and the gift itself.
In the article How to Help Kids Learn to Love Giving, the author Jason Marsh breaks down research-based methods for helping your child embrace the act of giving. While Marsh is primarily focused on charitable giving, I think many of the concepts can be used for other acts of giving as well, several of which we incorporated into our cookie venture. Namely, explaining the thought-process behind the act, giving the children agency within the process, and showing impact.
From the beginning, we included the kids in every part of the plan. In fact, after a while, they were driving the thing forward. We brainstormed the list of who we would give cookies to together. This included teachers, librarians, coworkers, neighbors, and our local coffee shop, because the kids love it there. The agency piece became clear right away, as the kids embraced their own idea of making elaborate thank-you notes to go with the cookies, and decorating the boxes with stickers and drawings. During every part of the process, from selecting the cookies we would make to delivering the boxes, we talked about it. Our conversations focused on everything from why we like to give people gifts, why these people matter to us, to how we think they might feel when they receive gifts (impact, but distilled for the 4- to 6-year-old set). This process, which spanned the two weeks before the holiday break, really took over our mindset. And I think the kids (and I) were as equally excited by the two days we spent delivering the cookies as we were opening our own gifts.
I know this is a very small story of giving, but I share it because I saw first-hand what an impact it had on how the season was framed in our house, far larger than even I expected. And because in the end, while I had a lovely holiday, it was because of how much I loved seeing my family give its time, attention, and sense of gratitude to those around us. Maybe that was their gift to me. One I am very grateful for myself.
[Photo credit: (cc) je4vo1]
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amy is a freelance writer and digital communications specialist who has lived in Western Massachusetts for the last ten years. The mother of two young daughters, Amy is a frequenter of coffee shops and bookstores, and an avid hiker. She is a long-time student of mindfulness meditation, and loves nothing more than a good friend, a good book, or a good nap.