By Jacki Post Ashkin, LCSW-C
Giving. As a concept it seems so simple. But some worry that it has become an art lost in the midst of lives that are fast-paced, busy and complex. Growing up, the old saying, “it is better to give than to receive” evoked a feeling of being connected to the act of giving and experiencing the satisfaction and joy of knowing that you brightened somebody’s world. How do we hand that down to our children and get them engaged in giving to others so that they can experience that warm feeling themselves?
- Start young. Start small. Even a very young pre-school child can experience the pleasure of making a difference. Ask your little one to help you with an easy household chore like putting clothes into or taking them out of the dryer, setting the table or dusting the furniture. Don’t worry about how well he does it, just focus on the fact that he helped you. Make a big fuss after. Give hugs, thank him so much and tell him how proud you are and much it helped you!
- Make them aware. Let your children know that the world isn’t a perfect place and that we are all responsible for making it better. In Judaism, this is the concept of tikkun olam, “repairing the world.” Use age-appropriate language or read story books that share lessons of helping other people, animals or the environment.
- Get them involved. Talk about the value of tzedakah or charity and social action. Let your children make and decorate a family tzedakah box. Encourage them to contribute to it and make sure they see you putting money in, too. Include them in the decision about how and where the family collection should be donated. Maybe family members can take turns weekly or monthly, designating where the money will go and explaining to the rest of the family why they chose that beneficiary.
- Be hands on. Volunteer together. There are organized opportunities like making sandwiches for shelters through your congregation or participating in community service projects at designated times like Mitzvah Day or the National Day of Service. There are also less structured ways of giving like taking food to an ailing friend or checking on an elderly neighbor when the weather is challenging.
- Strike a balance. It is natural for children to be excited about getting gifts, especially as their birthday or the holidays are approaching. But, those occasions also offer opportunities for encouraging children to think about others in addition to themselves. Michele Borba, Ed.D., author of The Big Book of Parenting Solutions suggests reframing the conversation when it comes to gifts. “Turn the word ‘getting’ to ‘giving’ — instead of (or in addition to) saying: ‘What do you want to get?’ Ask, ‘What do you want to give?'” Then take your child to a store and let her pick out one or more new toys to donate somewhere, like to the JCS Toy Drive. Give her the honor of personally delivering her donation.
- “Be the person you want your child to be.” Betsy Brown Braun, author and renowned child development and behavior specialist, puts it this way – “The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. Your child is watching you all the time…absorbing what you say and what you don’t say…how you react, how you treat people, how you behave. Modeling is the most powerful teacher.”
Almost every parent will say they hope their child grows up to be a kind, caring, and generous person. Chances are, if we plant the seeds of giving early they will take root and flourish right before our eyes. What a beautiful sight to see!
By Jacki Post Ashkin, LCSW-C, Senior Manager of Marketing and Development
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The Jewish Community Services’ Toy Closet collects toys and school supplies at holiday time and throughout the year to benefit children of families who are experiencing hardship and are receiving help from JCS. Learn more at jcsbaltimore.org/donate/jcs-toy-closet
Baltimore’s Community Mitzvah Day is December 25. This family-friendly event is perfect for all ages. Join more than a thousand volunteers in making this winter warmer and better for members of the Baltimore community. Learn more at jvcbaltimore.org/jvc-programs/communitymitzvahday