I was having breakfast out prior to the big holiday shopping spree. There was a grandfather having a breakfast conversation with his two grandsons who looked to be about 9 and 12 years old. My ears perked up when he said, “We need a plan…” He continued, “Well, your grandma is in on the plan and stands ready to wrap anything we bring home. And the best part is that she will keep your gift a secret!” They were talking about a strategy for shopping for the boys’ parent. I began imagining all sorts of fun they were going to have implementing their plan, learning how to give meaningfully to others. These types of conversations help to reinforce the values of gratitude, respect, and appreciation that we want to nurture in our children.
But during the recent holiday season, I noticed again an emphasis on getting rather than giving. Yet learning how to give meaningfully is a very important developmental achievement. When kids are not taught to give, we help to create a narcissistic society of individuals focused on fulfilling their own desires, who have a sense of entitlement. So we must counteract this “me-ism” through effortful practice. Teaching children and teens to do chores, making a contribution to the family system, helps them toward this end. But there needs to be something bigger, outside of the family, that kids can do to learn and to develop those core values of gratitude, respect, and appreciation. Developing an attitude of service by looking for and helping to meet the needs of others is one way to accomplish this.
Holidays and special events provide opportunities for instruction in the giving arts. One gift that anyone can give is that of service, a gift of time and effort invested in another. Here are some ideas to help your family begin to practice developing a serving-others attitude:
~Pulling weeds for a senior in your neighborhood.
~Preparing and delivering a meal for a family.
~Washing windows for someone who is home bound.
~Serving up meals to the homeless.
~Adopting a family who have fallen on hard times and making sure each child has a new outfit for school.
~Getting a group of families together to clean up a trailer park.
If you take 1 day a month to do something as a family to give to others you will strengthen this attitude of service. And you will all receive the joy that comes from giving.
I think that the grandparents of those two boys will receive the greatest joy this year because they participated in helping their grandchildren learn the attitude of service. Oh, did I not mention that the youngest made a list of things that he could personally do for his mom? One “coupon” is for a neck massage.