What Are We Teaching Children about Giving? Gifts from the Heart, Part Two

Giving from the Heart 2014 illust by Jennifer Miller

It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.

– Mother Teresa

Over our Thanksgiving holiday this past weekend in the presence of multiple family members, the discussion focused on Christmas preparations and specifically, the question was raised and debated, “How are we going to handle gifts this year?” There were many and varied opinions, most of them passionate, about how we should go about celebrating the holiday and one another. There was talk of tight budgets, consumerism, consideration of the greater good and those who don’t have the means, upholding traditions from the past, setting limits and empowering individuals to make their own gift-giving decisions. Why are gifts such a loaded topic of conversation? What’s so controversial about giving?

Many thoughts and feelings are connected to gift giving and receiving. Rejection and acceptance, love and sadness, regret, nostalgia, tradition, disappointment, guilt and compassion to name just a few. So after the storm of opinions, I had to return home to think for myself about the meaning of gift giving and what I want my son to learn and experience. After all, if there are a complex of emotions surrounding the gift giving experience, it threatens to divide rather than deepen connection. I asked myself and now, I ask you,

How can we help children experience both the joy of giving and receiving graciously and the joy of trust and connectedness to family?

There is no greater gift than showing your love and appreciation for the people who are most important in your life. These thoughts helped me return to a post entitled “Gifts from the Heart” for which I created a list of ideas for heart-driven gifts. I continue that discussion here with more ideas for those of you buying gifts for any of the Winter holidays. If I shift the focus in my mind from “What can I buy my Mom that she’ll really like?” to “How can I deepen my connection with my Mom and show her my appreciation?” I begin to think differently about my holiday preparations. So here are my thoughts and ideas for meaningful gifts from the heart. These gifts, embedded with meaning, can be made with love and without much money or grand artistic talents.

For Adults from Your Children (and You):

Time – For so many who live abundant lives, more “stuff” to fill your rooms is not even a desire. But time is precious for everyone, particularly time spent with people you love. Think about an outing that you can do with someone who would enjoy your company. Enlist your child’s input. For example, have your child draw a picture of a visit to the Zoo with his Grandparents. Set a time and date and place a message on the back of the picture gifting a day of fun with one another.

Recognize People’s “Gifts” – This year we are borrowing a tradition from Great Britain. We are making family “crackers.” Traditionally, crackers are given at various holiday celebrations and contain small items such as, party hats, ornaments, party horns and a joke or riddle. Instead of those trinkets, we are placing a note inside each about a family member. The note will highlight one “gift” a family member contributes to the rest of the family. Such as, “Aunt Anna contributes a connection to our family history through stories, pictures and food that reminds us of our heritage.” Instead of noting a person’s gift, you could build on the British riddle tradition and place the message in the form of a guessing game to build knowledge about family members’ little known experiences or talents. For example, “Which family member has journeyed the farthest from home? Where did they go and what happened on that adventure?” We are collecting cardboard toilet paper rolls and wrapping them with beautiful paper. Involve your children in creating the messages. This can be a no-cost, highly meaningful gift.

Bookmarks – Do you have kid art hanging around the house? If you are anything like me, you have piles of it. Take out a few choice pieces and cut a slice of the best portion down to a 2 inches by 6 inches, bookmark size. Be certain your child signs and dates her art. You can glue the art to a thicker card stock paper or if you like, have it laminated.

Your Child’s Hand or Thumbprint – My sister-in-law had the idea to place our children’s handprints on oven mitts. But you can also easily do this project with minimal to no expense involved. Brush your child’s hand with kid-safe paint and Handprints 2014 illust by Jennifer Millerplace her hand print on a blank sheet of white paper. Mat and frame it for family members. You could also use thumb prints. This will be a unique representation of your child at a
particular age.

From You to Your Child:

Sometimes we tend to think that children only want toys for the holiday and may not value a personal treasure that is handmade and thoughtful. This dilemma forced me to think even harder about what my son might enjoy opening up during our holiday celebrating that would not cost money but would provide connection and meaning. How do you do this for a seven year old boy who can’t wait to get his hands on some new Star Wars Legos? Here are some of my thoughts.

Write a Baby Story – Hopefully you read stories daily with your children as we do. Some of E’s favorite stories told are not from books but about himself as a baby. It can be small and mundane but he will sit riveted to listen to accounts of his younger years. “Remember, Momma, I can’t remember anything so you have to tell me.” he will urge. Write down one of your stories from baby or toddler years. Be sure to consider when selecting a story, what it might say about his or her character so that it is not only funny or endearing but also affirms a strength. You can even illustrate the story with photographs. This will be a guaranteed keeper to be read over and again!

Video Compilation or Photo Collage – Put together videos from holidays of the past and your child will be able to relive the joy and watch her own journey through each. Or create a bulletin board for your child’s room that contains pictures of friends and family and gives your child a sense of their community of love and support.

From You to Your Partner:

Write a Letter – In our busy lives, we don’t often have a chance to give a family state of the union address or reflect deeply on our relationships. Sequester yourself for a quiet hour (less time than it would take you to get in your car and shop for a gift at the store). Really think about what you value about your partner. What if he were unexpectedly gone tomorrow? What would you miss most? Write about it. It just may become the most treasured gift of your holiday.

It does take a bit more thought to create gifts from the heart. But it can transform the gift giving experience for all family members to truly deepen connections and show your love for one another.

6 Comments on “What Are We Teaching Children about Giving? Gifts from the Heart, Part Two”

  1. Hello there.
    I’m in the UK and ‘Christmas Crackers’ are a tradition but they have become another ‘gift’ at Christmas instead of something fun.
    “Don’t buy those crackers because the gifts are rubbish’ or
    “Get these ones ‘cos you get a penknife’.
    I love your idea of putting a ‘guess who’ in the cracker. This makes it much more of a family activity rather than a individual gift giver.
    Thank you

    • Jackie,
      Yes! I bought crackers for the first time last year because I love the tradition. But necessity is the mother of invention, I guess, because we were struggling over gifts this year needing to keep to a tight budget and also we had an explicit goal of bringing more meaning and connection to our celebrating. Glad you liked it! If you do it too, I’d love to hear how your family reacts. I appreciate you reading and commenting! Wishing you a happy holiday season! – Jennifer

  2. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate this post, Jennifer. I struggle with this a lot with my children. Last night we attended the “Holiday Shop” at my daughter’s school —-where kids are encouraged to buy presents for friends and family. It was so misaligned to our approach to money, but I also know that gift giving and receiving is an important aspect of social development that I want to teach. We escape out of town for the holidays and put very little emphasis on gifts….and high emphasis on time together. As the kids are getting older, I am realizing that ignoring gift-giving may not be the best approach. It helps reitterate our distaste for consumerism, but deprives them of the chance to connect with others through giving/receiving. THANK YOU for your thoughtful ideas on how to embrace gift-giving without spending a lot of money on meaningless stuff!

    • Shannon, Thanks for your detailed comment! We were wresting with the gift giving issue in a big way as a family this year so it seemed an important one to tackle. Though many have differing priorities for gifts during the holidays, many, I think, would agree on the principles of teaching gratitude, empathy, thoughtfulness and compassion. Translating that into family traditions does take some thought and planning. Each year we try to get better at focusing on appreciating one another and less on consumerism. It’s tough when it abounds! But I do think you are right that it’s important to give children practice in thoughtful giving. It’s a part of every culture’s tradition in some shape or form so children do need experience with ways to give that promote their well-being and others. Good luck this season and I look forward to collaborating with you in 2015!

    • Doing Good Together,
      Thank you so much for both your comment and for the excellent resource! I will also use your site link as a resource on my post this week that will be focused on doing service with family members. In the rush of life — and particularly with the many demands of the holiday season, though parents want to teach kindness and giving, it’s difficult to think through those opportunities. It so helps to have specific examples so I appreciate that you’ve done that and I try and do that as well. Thanks again!

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