child giving gift

Gift giving is a traditional practice in most families. On special occasions throughout the year, and especially during the holiday season, children are faced with gift-giving decisions that will shape their lifelong values about giving.

If we look beyond the external act of giving gifts, research in child development tells us something important about what happens in children’s internal worlds when they give to others. The gift-giving process helps shape their identities.

What are you doing to help your children and teens find meaning through their gift-giving experiences? How does gift giving support your family values? These are great questions to discuss as a family!

Why is Gift Giving Important?

Understanding the importance of gift giving is the first step to mindful giving. Children associate their birthdays and the holiday season with being receivers of gifts. But according to studies in human development, it is gift giving that reaps the biggest psychological rewards. Why?

  1. Gift giving builds empathy. To give meaningful gifts, children must put themselves in others’ shoes to imagine “what would be meaningful to someone else?”
  2. Gift giving shows others you care. Positive relationships are built upon caring and respect. Even a simple card or electronic message with a note of encouragement is viewed as a gift by the recipient.
  3. Gift giving is an act of kindness. Being kind to others improves a family’s and a community’s quality of life.
  4. Gift giving increases well-being. Devoting personal resources on behalf of others has been found to be one of the most important predictors of satisfaction and well-being.

Discover the Meaning of Gift Giving Through Action

What values does your family hold about gift giving? How do you express those values?

Parents can help children and teens realize the internal rewards of giving by teaching them how to give back during the holidays and throughout the year.

Set a time to talk together as a family about your gift-giving values and how to put them into action. Families are often so busy during the holidays that it’s easy to go through the motions of gift gifting without connecting to the deeper meaning of giving. Yet it is these deep connections that shape children’s identities, that teach them the gift of giving.

Family projects that involve giving to those in need can be turned into powerful lessons that teach compassion, empathy, and meaning to children. By adolescence, young people have the capacity to think and act independently from their parents – to give conscious attention to and become passionate about giving. Whatever your gift-giving traditions, it is important to revisit how your thinking has changed, and how you might want to adapt your traditions.

Make children part of the dialog on gift giving. Engage their ideas and allow them to strategize with you. Studies show that when youth learn about and participate in active giving during childhood and adolescence, the internal benefits last a lifetime.

Six Ways to Nurture Learning Through Gift Giving

Gift giving takes many forms

There are many ways to give and give back. A simple gift of food or time often means more than a store-purchased gift or a monetary donation. Why? Children are engaged in the process of learning!

The following ways to give back can provide a discussion starter for your family. While these focus on charitable giving, families give traditional gifts too. Talk about how to make gift giving at birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays most meaningful to your family by engaging children’s hearts and minds in the creative and caring process of thinking and doing for someone else.

Pledge to Volunteer

Start locally. Volunteer as a family. There are many community organizations that need your time and support. There are more people in need than ever before. Did you know, for example, that nearly one in every six seniors in America faces the threat of hunger? Discover how you and your children can help with this issue and other needs in your neighborhood through the power of gift giving.

Sponsor an Impoverished Family

The Family-to-Family project helps American families share their bounties with others who are impoverished. They will link your family with a family struggling to put food on the table. Once a month, they’ll ask you to either shop, pack and send a box of groceries to them, or make a donation that allows them to do it for you. The best way is to get kids involved in the shopping, in the process of giving! Encourage children to reflect on what others would want, how they can empathize with families different from their own.

Send a Package to an American Soldier

The nonprofit organization invites you and your children to help make the holidays more special for American soldiers stationed in harm’s way. You can choose to support any of the Armed Services, decide what you want to send, and get children involved in gift giving by making cards and selecting gifts. Plan ahead so a soldier in Iraq, Afghanistan, or another place of global conflict can receive your family’s heartfelt gratitude for the job they do.

Visit a Nursing Home or Hospital

Bring the spirit of the holidays to those who otherwise might not have a celebration. The Holiday Project is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to pass along from generation to generation the responsibility of making a difference in the world by experiencing the difference we make in each other’s lives. The project connects volunteers with thousands of people spending Christmas, Chanukah, and other holidays confined to hospitals, nursing homes, and other institutions. Start one of these gift-giving projects in your community or join one already operating.

Serve a Meal to the Homeless

The National Coalition for the Homeless is a national network of people committed to ending homelessness. They work to meet the immediate needs of people who are homeless by providing education, advocacy, and grassroots organizing. Check their directories of national and local organizations where your family can help during the holidays or throughout the year.

Donate to a Food Bank

Right now, the programs that put food on the table for America’s vulnerable children, seniors, and working families are on the chopping block. Your help is desperately needed to fill food banks and pantries throughout the country. Feeding America, a nonprofit network of member food banks, can help your family find convenient ways to become gift givers.

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Published: July 20, 2018

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