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Inspiring your child during the holidays


Kathy Thomas, PhD, director of pediatric neuropsychology at Cardon Children's Medical Center in Mesa, Ariz.

Question: It’s the holidays, and I wonder how I can instill a spirit of service in my child?

It is not surprising that our children do not naturally understand the intrinsic rewards of service, even though everyone would probably agree that being generous is a good thing. 

We all know that it is a rewarding experience to give freely of your time, energy or financial resources to others who are in need. We would also agree that often the person who gives who receives the greatest benefit – that intangible sense of deep personal satisfaction. Since this is not an automatic message we hear on a daily basis, however, it is easy to forget. 

It is easy in our consumer-based culture to stay focused on ourselves rather than to experience the joy in service.  Through the television, internet, radio, and daily bulk-mailings we are bombarded with the message that we should be dissatisfied with what we have, who we are, and how we look.  Immediate self-gratification is over-valued. 

Although these influences are not intrinsically wrong or negative, they may contribute to an unconscious belief that service and generosity toward others is counter-intuitive and outside the natural order of things.  So it poses a challenge as parents to instill a spirit of service in our children. 

Here are a few practical ideas for parents:

  • Find it.  Explore opportunities in your neighborhood, your family or among friends who might be in need.  Identify someone (or a cause) that would be especially fun and rewarding from a child’s point of view.  The opportunities are plentiful, and generosity does not necessarily require money.

    The act of giving will raise your child’s awareness to the fact that the story is not always about us. We are all deeply interconnected with each other and have a responsibility to take care of each other as a family, as a society, and as a world.  Simple service might include baking cookies for an elderly neighbor, mowing the lawn of a friend who is in poor health or writing a note of appreciation.  Opportunities abound during the holiday season.  Focus on fun activities as well as areas where your child already has skills and/or a passion. 
  • Model it. Live as a person who lives generously – openly and in front of your children. You may feel that overt gestures are showy at best and ineffective at worse, but if you viewed yourself through your child's eyes, you realize that they are watching you and internalizing your attitude.

    Little things that you do, or choose not to do, will speak louder than words or lectures.  Does your child watch you put cash in that little red bucket outside the store or do they hear you making a cynical comment?  Do they hear you complain about how much money a gift cost or how much you will enjoy watching the recipient open it? They will learn to value service if you value it as part of your life.   Share with them how good it felt to help someone out when extra help was needed. 
  • Start immediately.  Do not wait until the perfect moment or wait until your child is old enough to appreciate the gift.  A child as young as 2 or 3 can be encouraged to share, to help, to create gifts and to give them away.  By the time they are old enough to understand the value of money, they can appreciate the value of giving it away. 

Start early, and living a life of service will become second nature to your child by the time they hit their teen years.

Page Last Modified: 12/16/2011
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