In Holiday Guide

This year, give the gift of giving. (PHOTO: Flickr/pontla)

This holiday season, give the gift of giving

It's that time of year again. You've probably received catalogues that include pictures of Santa and hundreds of gift ideas – and, if you're like me, you might've already bought what you want to give or receive this year.

This time of year can bring all kinds of feelings. If you're a parent, in particular, you might be feeling like you've been hit by a tornado. You might be filled with excitement and be downright jolly at the thought of spending time with your children enjoying festive activities. Or filled with joy in seeing the magic of the season through your children's eyes. And even – OK, sometimes mostly – pressure and stress to find the time to do said activities and affording the season.

If you are not a parent, the holidays can feel like a time of happiness and new beginnings or can feel terribly lonely.

Being a mom to two young children myself, I struggle personally with finding the balance of letting my children enjoy the wonder and magic of the season just as I did as a child, while at the same time not indulging in all of their wants and somehow teaching them about gratitude as well as the importance and joy of giving.

Giving, gratitude and paying it forward are not new concepts for adults. In fact, the Tuesday after Thanksgiving has now been named "Giving Tuesday." Our very own community has a well-known Facebook group that was created around the idea of "Loving and Lifting" members and others in the community. Adults seem to be buying into the importance of giving – but what about the younger generations?

Aa child therapist, I know how important it is for children to understand and participate in not only the act of giving, but to also to reap the benefits of being the receiver. As adults, we already know it feels extremely rewarding to give, and it helps us remember that we can make a difference no matter how big or small. We also know that when someone shows their generosity towards us, it makes us feel incredibly loved and thankful.

For children, all of these same feelings apply. But they might not yet know that THEY can make a difference.

In general, children lack much control over their daily lives. Adults tell them most of what to do or not do on any given day. Showing children the gift of giving teaches them that they can make choices that help someone else feel good. That helps children find some grounding and control in a life that can otherwise feel very chaotic and out of control. Giving also teaches children the beginning foundations of empathy and compassion. Understanding the idea that someone else needs help and could benefit from our generosity is an important concept for children to learn. Children begin learning these concepts as early as two.

I think most people can agree that teaching children the gift of giving is a valuable lesson, but it can feel very daunting as a caregiver to do so. Just add it to the list of everything else that needs to be taken care of and taught. The truth is, it doesn't have to be hard. It doesn't have to be a grand gesture or cost any money. In fact, it's the gifts we give that involve our time, not money, that leave the biggest imprint in our heart.

As a caregiver, the most important thing you can do is model the behavior yourself. Give unused objects away willingly to people who need them and help others when you see the opportunity and do it with a smile. Make it a habit. This is a good time of year to start the giving tradition, but it should continue all throughout the year with frequent episodes of generosity.

Caregivers should also be talking with children about the concept of giving. Children hear about the concept of sharing constantly. Why not talk about giving more? Collect some toys together that aren't being used and give them to a child who would use them. Make get well cards and give them to children in the hospital.

You can also read to children about giving. Children learn through reading constantly. It's more engaging than talking at them, and we all know that children love mimicking their favorite characters. "Heartprints" by P.K. Hallinan and "The Berenstain Bears Joy of Giving" are two of the favorite books in our house.

Whether you are a parent, teacher, grandparent, babysitter, aunt, uncle, godparent or none of these but understand the benefits of giving, there are a lot of opportunities to practice the gift of giving. I have included some below:

  • Help out a neighbor or loved one with a house chore such as unloading groceries, mowing or shoveling or even putting up holiday decorations. Little kids love being given tasks!
  • Collect toys that are no longer used to donate to a shelter, such as the Sojourner Family Peace Center
  • Buy new toys and drop them off to Toys for Tots. You can drop off the toys at any Salvation Army or at the Salvation Army of Milwaukee Distribution Center located at 5880 N. 60th St., on Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m.
  • Join Toddlers and Kids on a Mission which is a volunteer group for children. You can find more information on toammke.org.
  • Join Sunbeam Kids at sunbeamkids.org.
  • Write letters to active military or veterans.

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