Raising Charitable Kids
By Hana Haatainen-Caye
It's that time of year when television commercials are screaming for your kids' attention. In turn, your children scream back -- at you -- to buy them every hot toy and accessory on some imaginary Christmas must-have list. What's a parent to do?
It's hard to turn your back on the cries of a child in such desperate "need." Smart advertisers work hard to convince them that life is barely worth living if they don't add this or that to their growing collection of things. As a parent, it's your job to override the wrong messages programmed into your children's brains and reprogram them to listen to their hearts instead; hearts that connect with giving rather than always getting.
The holiday season is the perfect time to start redirecting your children's focus toward charity. If done correctly, you will undoubtedly reshape their hears. Before long, it will be second nature for them to spot a need and want to fill it.
Talk the Talk
Children are innately curious beings. They want to know the hows and whys. Just telling them to do something "because it's the right thing to do" won't accomplish the transformation of their hearts. When taught to obey "because I told you so," kids may well perform as instructed, but that's not the kind of robotic obedience you're looking for, especially when it comes to teaching your children to give.
Six-year-old Laura badly wanted a stuffed rabbit she saw in a store. When her grandma wouldn't let her have it, she sulked. After they left the toy store, they passed a Salvation Army Red Kettle Bell Ringer. Laura asked what the man was doing. Her mother explained, "He's collecting money for people who don't have enough to buy food or toys for Christmas. There are some families who just can't afford to make Christmas special. But when others put money in the kettle, The Salvation Army can buy things for those families so they'll have a good Christmas after all."
Laura thought for a moment and then reached into her pocket and pulled out the five-dollar bill she was going to use to buy something for herself. Walking over to the man ringing the bell, she handed it to him and smiled. Her step was lighter as she skipped back to her mother, and the lesson stayed with her as she continued to give to others in need in the years to follow. All it took was an explanation.
Walk the Walk
Naturally, children want to emulate their parents. If you tell them to be charitable without extending your own hand of giving, all the talking in the world is not going to change their hearts. They need to see you giving as well. That means you don't ignore the Red Kettle Bell Ringers every time you pass them. Make sure your kids see you cheerfully slip some bills or change into the kettles from time to time.
But remember that giving doesn't always require money. Consider volunteering at one of the many local organizations working to brighten the holidays for others. Perhaps you can become a Red Kettle Bell Ringer yourself and inspire your children to give of their time as well.
A Guiding Hand
As your children start to understand the value of giving, they need your guidance to know what they can do. From donating money to buying toys or food to volunteering, fostering this spirit of charity can be a family affair.
The Salvation Army offers programs and services that change lives. All the donations raised by the Red Kettle Bell Ringers stay in your community. The Red Kettle campaign has been around since 1891 and 82 cents of every dollar raised goes directly to those in need.
A Change of Heart
While getting involved in a local or national organization is invaluable, sometimes the best way to serve others is right in your own neighborhood. Children need to learn that giving can happen anytime and anywhere. Delivering a plate of homemade cookies or a warm tureen of soup to elderly neighbors or taking a poinsettia to someone who was recently widowed can help brighten the holiday season for them. And your children will experience what their parents learned long ago -- that seeing someone's face light up with gratitude is thanks enough. Kids who learn the joy of giving when they're young will grow up to be generous and thoughtful adults who truly embrace a lifestyle where kindness matters. And they'll understand, deep in their hearts, it really is more blessed to give than to receive.