Parenting 101: Giving First – Teaching Kids about Giving in the Season of Gift Overwhelm


Several years ago, I recall asking my just-turned-five-year-old son to gather items to donate to a children’s hospital for the young patients. I closed my eyes and prepared for howls of “What do you mean you’re giving away my toys?!” It never came.

As I opened my eyes, I saw him enthusiastically hauling toys from his toybox and beyond. He relinquished his old baby rattles, Legos, and his prized super hero collection. I asked if he really wanted to take all these items. “Yes, mom,” he replied. As we loaded up our car, I praised him for wanting to give his toys to those in need. That’s when it hit…


“Honey, I said we were going to donate today.”

“Donate? I thought we were getting a donut.”

Chuckling as I retrieved 20 Rescue Heroes from the lot, I sat down to explain the difference between donate and donut. I couldn’t help but wonder, though, how we teach our children the concept of giving back, of unselfishness, especially during season of holiday overwhelm.

Are toddlers and preschoolers too young? Did we miss the boat if our children are already teens? Not at all. From birth well into their teens and beyond, we can continue to provide our children with the tools to care for those in need – from the friend whose parents are divorcing to the homeless man living on the city streets to victims of unforeseen disasters.

We, as parents, are the most important tool to show our children selflessness.

Providing a home environment that is filled with empathy, generosity, compassion, kindness and consideration creates an ideal learning area for your children. When children witness your positive behavior, they have a greater tendency to model it.

Spend time with your children. Read books to young ones about manners, sharing and holiday giving. As they grow, openly discuss events such as homelessness and have your child help you create and act on solutions to help those that have been affected.

Teaching Your Kids about Giving First

Encourage Sharing. Whether toys, time, or ideas, sharing is something we preach to our children from day one; however, it is not until they reach the preschool years that they really understand the concept. Sharing is an excellent opportunity to lay the groundwork for helping others. Seize moments to help promote empathy. If your child’s sibling or friend is sad, you could encourage your child to share something with them to make them feel better.

For example, “Sweetie, Mary looks so sad, because she doesn’t have any Care Bears to play with and you have two. I bet it would make her feel really good if you let her play with one of yours for awhile.” As your children grow, encourage them to give their unused or duplicate toys to someone in need.

Be a Good Example. Expand your children’s opportunities of consideration by encouraging altruistic acts. Don’t be modest – point out your own unselfish ways. Let them identify with the emotions behind the act. Explain why you want to help others.

For example, you might say, “I’m so saddened by this story on the news about a family who cannot pay for Christmas gifts; I am going to write a check (send goods, volunteer time, etc) to help them out. Can you imagine if that happened to our family?”

Model Selflessness. Make selflessness a family event. Include volunteer work and social responsibility as part of your family definition or mission is key to letting your children know that you are committed to helping others.
Find volunteer activities that hold interest, such as baking treats for a convalescent center, so they become vested in the project. There are several organizations like The United Way and to help you find an activity that fits your family.

Pay Attention. Lastly, and probably most importantly, take the time to notice and praise your child’s selfless behavior and act. Your appreciation and love for their selflessness will encourage your child to continue to care for those in need while also strengthening your relationship and your family bonds.

Oh, and don’t forget to share a donut or two along the way this holiday season as well.

Want more information on heart-centered programs for kids? Check out Julie online at!


About Author

Julie Smith, adolescent and family counselor and parent educator, specializes in improving the parent-tween/teen relationships. She helps parents and educators understand tweens-to-teens, so they, in turn, can help these kids understand themselves. Every day, Julie shares tween-to-teen perspectives, insights and answers questions from parents in in the Flipside of Parenting community. For more information or to Meet your Tween, visit

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