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Preschool Education Articles

It Is Better To Give?

For many children the focus of the holiday season seems to be on "getting." They pore over catalogs. They carefully attend to television advertisements. They poll friends to determine peer group preferences. All this enables them to put together a list of their most desirable toys, games and gifts.

Some children even provide parents with a list that is prioritized and that includes information on price and location: buying for them can be a no-fuss, no-muss operation for parents and other gift givers.

We help children learn to concentrate on their own gifts by encouraging the list making and by quizzing them about their wishes. It is easy to make children the focus of this season. The down-side is that it can encourage children to be selfish and to believe that their major goal should be to collect more and better gifts than their siblings and peers. These are not the values that most families want to teach.

If families want to reduce the emphasis on selfishness, more attention needs to be given to helping children learn to focus on the needs and wishes of others. Instead of focusing only on what the child will get, he or she can be helped to think about giving to others. In most communities there is no shortage of families in need. During the holidays many agencies and organizations offer programs to provide assistance to these families -- "Caring Connections", Salvation Army's "Giving Tree", Santa Anonymous, homeless shelters to name a few. Also many churches have gift and food programs in which their members participate.

These programs provide an opportunity for children to learn about the value of giving, not just to their own family and friends, but to others who may have less than they do. Some families, as part of teaching a child about money management, have their children save part of their allowance in a special category called "Giving." This money can be used by the child to participate in one of these seasonal gift-giving programs. If a child has not been a saver, a parent can choose to provide money for this participation, though this is not as effective since the child does not have a very active role: he simply uses his parents' resources. The more active the involvement of the child, the more effective the learning will be. Perhaps the child could be allowed to earn some money for this purpose from parents by doing some special tasks. Or she may have resources like a piggy bank or may decide to give up one of her gifts in order to "free up" some funds. This is an important decision making process. The child should participate in the purchase, in wrapping, and in delivering the gift to the agency.

In families where giving to others has become a tradition, children often seem to enjoy the process as much as they do receiving their own gifts. Even preschool children can begin to experience the importance of sharing with others. They may not be reading newspaper articles, but they can be a "Secret Santa" to a family member. A "Secret Santa" gives gifts throughout the holiday season by doing nice and unexpected things, like making a bed, walking the dog, or carrying out the trash and recycling.

The holidays are a time when children can begin to experience the truth of the adage that it is better to give than to receive. They may not believe you when they start, but they can begin the process.

Reprinted with permission from the National Network for Child Care - NNCC.
Source: Adapted from Ann Mullis. "Because I Said So". North Dakota State University Extension Service.


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