Photo by: NCA

Giving the Gift of Giving

Photo by: NCA

So many of us are looking ahead and planning for the upcoming winter holiday season. Some words that come to mind are: family, hustle-bustle, crowds, department stores, parties, new toys, MONEY. This year, however, most of us have a lot less money than we used to. It’s stressful and worrisome but we have a choice to complain and be miserable or dig in and learn something new that strengthens us and makes us grow. So let’s use this moment in time to do the holidays differently this year. Let’s choose, ahead of time, a list of words for winter holidays 2009. OK here goes: children, family, closeness, love, conversation, slowing down, community, appreciation, giving. Just reciting those words out loud makes our hearts beat more slowly and we feel calmer, more in control. This year, let’s make a conscious decision to live according to our values rather than being swept up by the usual torrent of commercialism. Let’s turn the proverbial lemon into lemonade.

This time of economic difficulty is a perfect time to step out of the mindless pursuit of things and self-reflect on what’s important. As parents we know that it gives us great pleasure to give to our children. Seeing their faces light up when they receive that new Webkins or American Girl Doll they’ve been dreaming about, brings us joy. But what about teaching our children the joy of giving to others? That is truly an important gift because instead of being discarded after it’s lost its novelty, it is internalized by our children and leads them to be capable of empathy and compassion. These personality traits are really acquired skills that we can and MUST teach our children so that they can have the kind of relationships that bring them greater self esteem as they grow into older children and eventually adults.

In our book, Raising Children Who Soar (Teachers College Press, 2009), we look at the concept of risk-taking in new ways. We encourage parents to teach their children how to take the small and larger positive risks that are a part of day to day childhood and we explain how to do so. Examples of positive risks are leaving mommy at the day care door, or trying out for the school play even if these accomplishments are not sure-shots. Positive risks are different for different kids and at various stages of development. For an elementary school-aged child who is shy it could be asking a new friend for a play date. For a child with learning difficulties it could be raising a hand in class and asking the teacher to further explain a math concept. Parents need to teach children to step out of their comfort zones, try new and positive behavior, whether small failures, and have successes. This leads to healthy confidence and self-esteem.

Parents need to self-reflect on their own relationship to safety, security, success and failure. They also need to actively listen to their children – to the feelings, fears and dreams that are underlying their words and behavior. Not always so easy. However, the outcome of putting in the emotional attention reaps wonderful outcomes – children who “go for it” in life.

So what does this have to do with the holidays and giving? The answer is a lot! Children who can step out of their comfort zones learn to become independent thinkers and can tolerate having different opinions and even different values from others. Healthy risk-takers learn how to step into others shoes, empathize and compassion follows. And in this world where there are so many who are less fortunate than we are – people who are living in poverty, have life-threatening illness or are struggling in other ways — our hearts must go out to them.

Let’s teach our children compassion by example and by including them in acts of kindness. We can volunteer as families at a soup kitchen for a part of Thanksgiving Day. We can start a toy drive at our kids’ school and together bring the toys to the pediatric ward of a hospital. Let’s give our children the opportunity to step out, from time to time, of the comfy world of home and school and extend themselves to others. This holiday season we will reap the joy while teaching our children to become compassionate people. Not a bad way to turn lemons into lemonade!

Drs. Eppler-Wolff and Davis have learned the impor­tance of healthy emo­tional risk tak­ing through their clin­i­cal work with chil­dren and their fam­i­lies, and through the devel­op­ment of their men­tor­ing and lit­er­acy pro­grams. They teach par­ents and edu­ca­tors about healthy emo­tional risk tak­ing through their book, arti­cles, lec­tures and par­ent groups.

Editor’s Note This post was sponsored by the Drs. Eppler-Wolff and Davis to promote their new book.

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This year we are giving each of our girls (12 & 13 yrs old) one primary gift (and stocking stuffers) instead of the pile of gifts we usually gave. Then we are giving them each $40 to spend on some sort of service project type thing to help others. Since Christmas is celebrating the birth of Jesus, this is our gift to Jesus, helping others have a good Christmas...

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I agree. Every holiday we adopt at least one tag from one of the many giving trees around town and have the kids help pick out gifts.

We have also always had them give up one new, not opened and played with, Christmas present of theirs to charity. They get so much and our so blessed we think it's important for the to learn not everyone is and to give back.

I think teaching children to find the joy in giving is so important. Many of our children feel entiled to have everyhing they want. Many of us can no longer afford to give our children expensive gifts that they use for a week and then end up in their closets. When children receive they get temporary satisfaction and they seem to always want more.

This is why I started a donation website...

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I believe in teaching empathy to children. I have always wanted my children to see that gving back is part of being a contributing member to society. Since they have been babies, we have done toys for tots during holiday times. They are able to pick out toys and drop them off, so that they know that Christmas isn't all about receiving. I am an active volunteer in various activities, and have recently taken my oldest son to serve dinner at a local soup kitchen...

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I think it's great to teach our children empathy and that we are very fortunate to have what we do. Does anyone know of orphanages, children's home in the bay area to donate to, or to go spend time w/ the children so that my children can see 1 on 1 that there are less fortunate children than they? Thank you for your help.

We celebrate half birthdays by giving away outgrown and gently used clothes and toys every year. There are many local organizations and foster families who greatly appreciate receiving new clothes & toys and need it. I used to give to friends with new babies but when I heard comments like "We have so many clothes for the new baby!" and saw all the loot they would receive at baby showers, it seemed clear that there are many families who will be able to appreciate it more...

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