Although many children focus on what they will receive during the holidays — three simple practices can help foster a spirit of generosity in young children this time of year, and all year long:
* Offer homemade gifts. Leave purchased gifts to adults, who better understand financial sacrifice and generosity. For children to appreciate the act of giving, they need to have a personal connection to the gifts they offer to others. Making presents is one of the simplest (and most cost effective) ways to do this.
* Remember that generosity and gratitude go hand-in-hand. Teaching children to say “thank you” and “you are welcome” as part of gift exchanges is more than simple manners; it’s a lesson about generosity. Even young children will eventually “make the connection between saying ‘thank you’ and receiving something” and learn that generosity is valued.
* Embrace charitable acts and place them in a context that makes sense. To give to those whom we do not know is to embrace our human family. For young children, this is an abstract concept. As Mr. Rogers once reminded us, “[It’s tempting to ask] children to help ‘the needy’ or those who are ‘less fortunate,’ [but] that kind of thinking divides people into ‘us’ and ‘them’ and doesn’t necessarily contribute to a sense of ‘neighborliness.’ … All of us at some time or other need help … and everyone is a giver and a receiver. It is far better to say to our children that we are gathering sweaters for people who are cold and don’t have the money to buy warm clothing.'”