As a mother, I found that teaching a child the concept of giving from a young age as very challenging. Even though children are highly receptive to kindness, they are prone to hold on to items they love.
So I played the "mommy whisperer" with my eldest child. I've talked to him about friends and family helping out others. I was the first to jump onto any initiatives happening at school during the Holidays and Eid. I always volunteered on school trips and modeling paying it forwards. However, when it came to his personal belongings, his tears poured. After all, who doesn't like to receive a gift, right?
I was ready the second time around despite two kids, a puppy, a startup, losing a parent and a pandemic. But I've learned a more realistic strategy to go about it. I started to encourage caring and empathy in simple everyday live examples. Slowly but surely, values such as giving and volunteering become a daily habit.
"Joey doesn't share food!"
Unfortunately, the recent pandemic wave has hit humanity by storm. We grew a deeper appreciation of our loved ones and remembered to treasure every moment and live it fully. Yet it was heartbreaking to be away from grandparents, interacting with friends through screens and Plexiglass, forbidden to share food and toys.
At home, the rules were a bit different. It was safe to live the life we knew within the boundaries of our own bubble. Our sons were always encouraged to share meals and toys with close friends and relatives. While the outside world had shut its doors on childhood, we created experiences to feel the joy of sharing.
It's literally double the fun with proper supervision.
Reframe chores as helping out.
You may not be able to explain the full meaning of giving in a conversation. Your child can still recognize that pitching in makes mom and dad happy. For example, I never ask my children to do chores, but I do ask them to help out. My little one loves setting up the table. It's his contribution to helping out around dinner time, and he runs around super proud of himself.
My eldest loves to cook and is always ready to prepare a quick or read a story to his little brother. It's easier for them to understand that they are needed while helping out someone they care about. It makes that person's needs feel more natural, harder to ignore, and is an initial motivator. Helping others is a regular act integrated into our day - expected and encouraged but definitely not rewarded.
Instill empathy through bedtime stories.
I will be lying if I say that bedtime routines in our family are all sunshine and butterflies. It's a night shift! It's work! Kids tend to spill out every detail of their day (the good, the bad, and the ugly) right before bedtime in the hope of delaying it, which I used to find hugely frustrating, but somehow always managed to listen even if it meant pushing that schedule for another 30 minutes.
Bedtime stories are a great way to drive empathy by asking your child how the character in the story would feel if it were teased or hurt. For example, you could say: "Looks like the little duck is crying! Is it feeling angry?" Then you can ask your child if they've experienced the same situation as the character in the book. For example, you can ask your child if another person made them feel angry too?
Little kids can easily relate to everyday stories that could be an interpretation of real-life events.
I've noticed that as they grow older, so do their problems. Sharing them with you is actually a blessing in the long run, so embrace that extra babbling around bedtime. It's your opportunity to give them a different perspective on life and instill those complex values as you go.
Appreciation can be in the form of giving, too!
How can you help others if you don't value the people who help you? Let them express gratitude for the person who cares for them. Writing a "Thank You" letter, choosing a gift for their teacher, doing something special for grandma, baking cookies, or calling a sick friend are all gestures to help children understand the concept of caring and enjoying giving away something that brings joy to themselves and others.
Involve them in giving.
It's tough on children under 12 to understand the concept of money, more so giving it away! But you can involve them by displaying tangible objects you are giving away and the reason behind doing so. You can start off with your seasonal decluttering. If children see us giving away unused items, they are more likely to mimic our behavior. Older children are also more responsive when giving away clothes for charity, so it's easier to get them involved. Younger ones may seem a bit hesitant. You might try to devote a day to your overflowing closet next to the kid's toy area but IF they seem devastated about giving away their very own teddy bear, leave it for another occasion using different tactics while focusing on practicing caring and showing empathy towards others.
With all this being said, it's comforting to know that giving comes more naturally to children than adults. We just need to help them find the joy in it and how it can make another person happy without forcing it.
Written by: Lara Hamdan, Co-founder of Cloudhoods The Women Empowerment Platform