3 Tips to Help Instill a Giving Spirit in Your Child
By Beth Gonzales
**Friend’s name changed for privacy
Last Saturday, my daughter had a playdate with a friend. It was early afternoon when I overheard my daughter’s friend, Abagail, discussing the amount of play cellphones and hand sanitizers my daughter owned. “Zoe, you have a bunch of these! I want this one…and I want this hand sanitizer” Abagail declared. Abagail wasn’t bullying my daughter, she was expressing what she wanted. However, she didn’t ask so my instinct was to go into the room and intervene. But instead, I let it play out—and listened. “No, Abagail …those are mine. You can’t have them…stop trying to take all my stuff!” my daughter exclaimed in a frustrated voice.
Zoe and Abagail went back and forth for several minutes. I finally went into the bedroom and suggested they play with other toys, watch a movie or do some artwork. They said no to all of my suggestions. So, I asked them to start cleaning up the room that because toys were scattered everywhere. Zoe and Abagail slowly began to clean… but kept circling back to the plastic cellphones and hand sanitizers. Then they began arguing about them. “That’s it!! No one is getting anything! Clean up.” I sternly told them.
It was time for Abagail to go home.
Later that evening, the incident kept rewinding in my mind. Two questions in particular kept lingering in my mind. 1) How do you teach a child to have a giving spirit, a desire to want to help the world and be philanthropic? 2) How do you teach your child to set and maintain boundaries while giving?
I know I won’t always be there for my daughter. However, I want to equip her with the skills and outlooks on life that I think will enable her to be fulfilled in life. I want her to know how to advocate for herself, be independent, and be comfortable setting boundaries. I know I don’t want my daughter to be materialistic, but instead to have a giving spirit. I want her to know the importance of helping others; and to be comfortable setting boundaries when she gives and decides not to give–to friends, family, or those in need.
So how do you do that? Here are 3 specific practices to help instill the spirit of giving and setting boundaries in your children.
1) Talk about Giving
The holiday season; natural disasters; wars; terrorist attacks…all of these instances usually prompt people to offer help and have the desire to give. Times like these can be teachable moments to help children learn about giving and helping others. However, parents don’t have to wait for such instances to involve their children in giving experiences. When it comes to giving, it’s best to begin teaching the spirit of giving by talking about it in a child’s everyday life. For example, giving a snack to a sibling, sharing a blanket with a playmate, giving a financial offering at church or to a particular cause, etc.
When your child demonstrates a giving spirit, celebrate it! Doing this helps children connect an emotion to the giving experience, while emphasizing your value of giving. Additional examples of how you can talk about giving with your child include: a) talking about other people who are helping make the world a better place b) discussing the issues others care about and give towards and c) talking about your own giving experiences and d) talking about how other kids give. This can include examples of local kids doing things in your community or city, or researching online to show your child how other kids passion lead them to give back that grew into an event, tradition, nonprofit or foundation. Sharing the stories of why other kids give, and what other kids care about and are doing around the world, can further encourage your own child to make a difference in the world while witnessing how giving can be done at any age, in any situation.
2) Talk about ‘having plenty of something vs having something vs having nothing at all’
With the stark contrasts between the haves and have-nots growing more and more widespread in today’s world, many people see the country as divided along economic lines. Moreover, looking at the current political climate in the United States, it appears that our societal divide is driven by political factors just as much as economic ones. While children may not understand the root of these differences, or why things aren’t distributed more equally in this world, they will notice when they come face to face with these differences. In fact, at times, they will experience the propensity to covet and become jealous too…but these are teachable moments! Just as it’s important to talk about giving… it’s important to talk about having plenty of something vs. having something vs. having nothing at all. When having these types of conversations, you want to be sure to talk to your child on their level, and for their age. If your child gets upset and compares themselves to another, ask questions to understand what they are feeling and experiencing. For example if your child gets upset and says, ‘I only have one doll and my friend has three” ask them how that makes them feel and what that means to them.
Listening to how your child experiences these situations allows you to acknowledge their feelings and concerns. Moreover, helping your child acknowledge these feelings, and becoming aware of these differences and talking about these differences will help them learn to critically think and become more in tune with their emotions and surroundings as they age. This skill will help them decipher differences which can be applied when making philanthropic decisions.
They best way to see if something fits is to try it on. I think this is true for clothing, shoes, makeup and the roles we can play in life. As an advocate of experiential learning, I believe role-playing is a great way to help your child practice the giving spirit. For example, use puppets to play ‘what if’ scenarios with your child. You can buy puppets or make them together. When you play, encourage your child to explore scenarios when they give, have plenty, have nothing and don’t share at all. Let the child play the adult giver, while you play the child receiver; then you play the child giver while they are the child receiver; and the scenarios go on and on. This gives your child an opportunity to try on roles and exercise the spirit of giving in different ways while exploring different power dynamics. It allows the child (and you) to explore a range of emotions and consequences. It also can help your child get comfortable saying ‘No’ and setting boundaries. Role play can help build a child’s character, help them learn how to maintain their boundaries, and resolve conflict, too! This is why it’s important to teach children about giving in non-confrontational ways –so they are open to doing things differently and seeing things from other angles. So be creative! Use different voices and accents! Make it fun! Remember to ask questions and explore different scenarios; and don’t give them answers to scenarios, because that can cause dependency. Instead let them think for themselves and try different approaches, as you praise each step they take towards giving and maintaining boundaries.
To teach your child what giving is, and how to be giving, you have to show them. You have to be their example! They have to see you in action. So give donations to a homeless shelter, give money to a local nonprofit, or volunteer your time in the community or school. Sharing your process of how you decide what to give, when to give, when not to give and your reasoning is critical for your child to know. This information teaches your child while they see your values and boundaries in action. It allows them to see the respect you have for others, the respect for yourself – and how setting boundaries not only helps in the giving process but how it can apply to other aspects of their lives.
We need more giving people in the world –people who are kind, savvy, brave and strong – people who want to make the world better for others and themselves. Teaching your child to know that regardless of whether they have nothing, something, or plenty of something — they can still give. This is a great value to instill in them. It not only improves their life experience, but also improves the world!