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I'm Teaching My Daughter About Giving

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I realized I was failing as a parent when my daughter started sobbing after she dropped some quarters in the Salvation Army bucket.

“Dat my money!” She wailed. “I want it back!”

When I explained to her that she had plenty of money and that the money in the bucket was going to help people who needed it, she stomped her foot. “Dey should get their own money!”

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When we got home, I tried to explain to her that we needed to help others. We started by going through her toys and deciding what she needed and what she didn’t play with any more. She got excited about giving toys to “little babies.” But again, when the moment came to give the toys up, she was in tears. She demanded that Santa, mommies and daddies and Jesus all should give toys to other kids, but she didn’t have to.

I grew up one of eight children. Many of our Christmases were sparse, but I never remember feeling disappointed when my gifts were homemade or hand-me downs. And while I am so happy I have the ability to buy presents for my children (and I am going to), I also want them to understand the value of giving.

While my husband and I have made monthly giving a line-item in our budget, we don’t really talk about it. But I realized perhaps our lack of PR was hurting our daughter who, at 3, sounded more like Ebenezer Scrooge than Santa.

I didn’t realize how hard I had been pushing the idea of giving until a few weeks ago when my daughter reached into her pocket and handed one of her teachers a fistful of pennies.

Expert advice suggests to build on a child’s natural instinct for giving and to make it relatable. So, we started by buying a Christmas present for her little brother. Granted, he isn’t a charity case. But she loves to give him things. She is always wadding up balls of paper, because as she says, “You wike balls, bubba!” So, together, she and I went out and picked a present for him. We talked a lot about the things he likes and I tried to steer her to picking a present for him. At first, she was sure he wanted a princess doll. But the more we talked, she changed her mind and picked out a toy phone with a lot of buttons.

Then, we picked out a present for her dad. She was indignant that we had to pick between socks or a blue shirt, but again, we talked about thinking about other people and what they want. When we approached the register with a boring blue shirt, she sighed and told the clerk, “My daddy only wants dis. He so silly.”

Acting on the advice of a friend, we also partnered with a local charity to buy presents for a child in town. The child was anonymous, so I made up a name for her, and took my daughter out to shop for “Sarah.” And my daughter seemed excited. She didn’t even once ask for a gift for herself, which I consider a major coup.

Advice I read also suggests to start lessons about giving in a small way. So, she and I have been making cookies while the baby sleeps and giving them to our neighbors. I love the proud look she has on her face when she hands off plates of enthusiastically sprinkled gingerbread men.

I am not pretending to have all the answers, and of course, my child is little. We are going to have to do these things over and over until it all sinks in. But I’m learning that perhaps our giving should be more of a family affair—something we talk about and share together and something I start letting my kids have more of a say in.

I didn’t realize how hard I had been pushing the idea of giving until a few weeks ago when my daughter reached into her pocket and handed one of her teachers a fistful of pennies. “Here you go,” she said soberly, “I have lots of money and I don’t fink you have any. So, dis is for you.”

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I was mortified, but also proud. And the teacher was amazing. She took the grubby pennies and thanked my daughter for her giving heart. “Was that nice?” My daughter asked me later. “Was it nice when I gave my teachers money?”

“What do you think?” I responded.

“Yes, it nice to give people fings.”

And she’s exactly right. I hope she never forgets that. Condescension is a lesson we will have to work on later, though.

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