Teaching Children the Gift of Giving, Not Getting

It’s Never Too Early to Show Children the Joys of Giving

The “Gimme” Attitude

What gifts can young children give?

Lots of people love to talk about children being spoiled today, being raised with a sense of entitlement. Usually, we’re talking about other people’s spoiled children but not always.

Did Socrates have specific children in mind when he observed: “The children now love luxury…have bad manners, contempt for authority…disrespect to their elders….” ?

During the busy month of December, many caring adults work very hard to create special traditions and choose perfect gifts that will delight children – who will then appreciate and remember warm holiday experiences. You know, we’re making memories! It’s a lot of work.

What Really Makes Children Happy

How frustrating and disappointing when instead of sweet gratitude and general contentedness, children instead look around for ANOTHER present or are cranky or get overstimulated by our memory-making activities.

Where is the sweet gratitude and general happiness, darn it? We want kids to be happy, so we give them things that we think will make them happy. And then we’re surprised when they want more.

A sturdy antidote to “the gimmes” and attitudes of entitlement – and to seasonal over-stimulation, too – is…drumroll please… to help children give to others. The “perfect” present will not create as much pleasure for children as they will experience when they give to someone else. Really!

Studies Support the Positive Impact of Giving

It turns out that the adage, “Tis better to give than to receive” is supported by science. Studies show that giving to others, and even thinking about giving to others, activates areas of the brain associated with pleasure, trust, social connection, and reward. Other studies have shown that people who volunteer or take care of others are healthier and live longer than those who don’t.

When we give to, or help others, there is a surge of activity in the brain, which scientists have dubbed a “helper’s high.” People feel warm and happy when they give to others. Scans show more activity in areas of the brain associated with good feelings when someone gives a gift than when they receive one.


Build Children’s Life Skills by Helping them Give to Others

It is useful to know that caring adults can make children happy and can create lasting, meaningful memories. They also cultivate ethical, kind, and thoughtful behaviors in children. Apparently becoming a “giving” person makes children feel great. We help develop a sense of purpose by doing for others.

 Teach Young Children to Give:

  • Help children make and decorate gifts for others.

Drawings, hand-made cards, beaded key chains and necklaces, decorated cookies, or packs of cocoa in a mug.   Young children are so concrete – the process of creating and giving a gift makes sense to them.

  • Plan ‘child friendly’ volunteer activities where children give their time.

It is harder to volunteer with young children, but it can be done.  Hands-on projects are most practical with young children. Find out which animal shelters are looking for cat cuddlers or dog walkers. Food pantries sometimes allow supervised children to sort food into donation bags (2 boxes of spaghetti in each box…). It may require effort to find the right volunteer opportunity, but it will be worth it.

  • Tell children when you are volunteering and “doing good deeds”.

While it may feel like tooting your own horn, children need to know that we value helping others and volunteering.   Studies show that the most altruistic children had role models who volunteered or frequently helped others.

  • Be spontaneous.

When children express interest in making a card for a sick friend, seize the day, grab some crayons and paper and go for it! If hearing about children in need results in your child volunteering to give away a toy, wrap it up. Children will benefit more from choosing to gift one of their toys than they will from playing with it. Thank them and let them you’re proud of their generosity.

  • Let children contribute.

Wiping tables, placing napkins by each plate, sweeping, and tidying up are ways children can give.  While it might be quicker to do it yourself, allowing children to give the gift of helping out matters more than speed. Usually.

  • Remember to acknowledge when children give.

When you see a child hold a friend’s hand who is scared or share a toy – these are lovely gifts from a young child. Part of experiencing “helper’s high” is seeing that your service is valued. Let them know that you noticed, and that it helped.

We would love to hear how you help children give to others!

Click here to print a “Blogtips” handout with pointers from this post.



3 Replies to “Teaching Children the Gift of Giving, Not Getting”

  1. Great practical suggestions! How children spend their holiday seasons as they grow will be with them forever. I’m passing these along. Thanks.

  2. Children who learn these ways of being at a young age are really lucky…gets them going in a direction of happiness and fulfillment throughout their lives. Who could ask for more than that? And…these ideas are also great advice for adults seeking a more fulfilled life.Thanks for a thoughtful post.

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