Teach generosity, don’t lecture

Published 4:44 pm Saturday, December 10, 2011

QUESTION: It’s the gift-giving season again and my children are more focused on getting than giving, which really disturbs me. How do I influence them to be generous without a lot of lecturing?

ANSWER: Actually, I think about this a lot because we are a culture where love is often symbolized by the things we get.

I grew up with one parent who was very generous with gifts and one who, also generous, felt the need to balance that generosity with stern lectures about extravagance and others’ needs before we received gifts. Giving and getting is a moral challenge.

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Currently, I am thinking that the holiday season is an excellent time, amid the traditions and the activity, to recognize and do acts of kindness.

Around the supper table or before turning the lights off at bedtime this week, think about talking about the gift of kindness — how we give it and how we receive it. Then spend the next two to three weeks at supper or bedtime sharing about the gifts of kindness you might have given or received.

Here are some happenings that may occur:

• Helping without being asked.

• Smiles, hugs and hearing “thank you.”

• Really thinking about a person’s likes when gift selecting.

• Contributing to the Salvation Army red kettle at a store entrance.

• Shoveling a sidewalk before someone with less energy has to.

• Writing personal notes on holiday cards.

• Sharing holiday baking with a neighbor.

• Including names from an Angel Tree when gift shopping.

• Giving holiday cards to everyone in the family, sharing something specific you appreciate about them, and putting the cards under the tree, too.

• Finding stories to read that focus on kindness (a personal favorite is “The Little Engine That Could,” by Watty Piper).

• Renting movies that emphasize kindness.

• Deciding to volunteer together somewhere, somehow.

I saw a powerful ad recently.  It reminded me that, in America, we are not required to offer food to the hungry, or shelter to the homeless, or to visit the lonely.

We really don’t have to do anything for anybody. Still, over 80 million people in the United States do. Isn’t that encouraging?

If you would like to talk about opportunities for family volunteering, call the toll-free Parent WarmLine at 1-888-584-2204/Línea de Apoyo at 877-434-9528.  For free emergency child care call Crisis Nursery at 1-877-434-9599.  Check out www.familiesandcommunities.org.