Family Values: Teaching Your Child the Value of Generosity

The holidays are just around the corner and the spirit of giving and generosity is in the air. As parents, you’re probably thinking about what to give your children, while, most likely, they’re thinking about what they’re going to get. There’s nothing wrong with the commercial aspect of the holidays if you balance it with teaching the value of generosity. After all, giving and receiving are a dance of mutuality. One must give, in order for someone else to get.

Giving and receiving are part of the natural order of things. A mother gives life to her child; the child receives it, shapes it and, one day, gives back to his child. Apple trees bear fruit. We eat the fruit, which gives us energy, then plant the seeds, which grow into more trees. Like everything in life and nature, generosity is a circle. When we start to see this, we realize that what we give defines us more than what we have. (An apple tree is what it is because it gives us apples. Who are you? What do you give?)

Growing up in a capitalistic society, most of us have gleaned that what we own is more important than what we have to offer. But it’s generosity that truly defines us and shows others who we are. And giving is a paradox because at the very moment it’s defining us, it’s stripping away our identity and joining us in community with nature and other living beings. Through generosity, we become the circle.

As always, we must be careful of what and how we teach. The object is to give your child a sense of joy and relatedness in the act of giving, rather than giving so they might get. The latter is disingenuous , devoid of value and downright manipulative. I call it "stingy giving." It’s the kind of giving that demands a "thank you," rather than giving from the heart, the kind of giving that says, I did that for you, now what will you do for me?

Acknowledging that we must proceed carefully, how do we teach the value of generosity? Since children learn by association, your first step might be to precede their getting by having them give something else away.

In our house, this has become a ritual. Before the holidays, before birthdays, we sort through our belongings and find some things of value to give away. With two young boys, this is fairly easy, since their interests change and they quickly outgrow both clothes and toys.

To make this activity their own, I let them determine what they’d like to give away. The rule is that it has to be something of value, rather than something worn or broken that should be thrown away.

As they put their gifts into a box, I ask them to imagine the child who might be happy with such things. Since these items once gave them some happiness, this helps them identify with the child who will receive their gifts. Then my boys accompany me to the local women and children’s shelter and each child carries in his box. (Face to face giving is also good, as long as it’s done without pity.)

Afterward, we talk about what it feels like to give something to someone else without expecting anything in return. We talk about the importance of economy—the give and take--the circle of things, of conservation and of giving away what we no longer use.

I tell my boys that they’re fortunate because of what they have to give. Giving to each other is the glue that bonds us together as family. Generosity outside our little circle makes that circle bigger.

There are many forms of giving and we talk of these. Gifts of material value are one thing and then there is generosity of the heart. This consists of many things, such as: giving time, giving kindness, rending a heartfelt song, lending an ear, lending a hand, giving encouragement, and giving understanding to those less fortunate or less mature than you.

Last Christmas, we spent a couple of hours at a mission, where we served breakfast to the homeless. My three-year old and five- year old acted as food servers, along with mom and dad. Afterward, we talked about how blessed we are to have the things which we so often take for granted: basic things like shelter, food and clothing, and the sparkling gem that knows no currency: the love within our hearts.

Find your own special way to incorporate the family value of giving into your holiday rituals. The more you do, the more your children will learn to value generosity. And the more they give, the more they’ll learn to value the blessings on their plate.

As for parents, our gifts are in the giving. Spend your time teaching family values such as generosity and you will reap what you have sown. Indeed, that may be the greatest gift our children give us: the realization that the seeds of humanity which we have so lovingly and carefully sown will blossom in the hearts of our children’s children and the generations to come.

Copyright 1999 by Laura Pickford Ramirez. This article is the sole (and soul!) property of Laura Ramirez and may not be copied or redistributed in any manner online or offline without the express written permission of the author.

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