Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Teaching Gratitude & Charity

I’m finding this to be a tough time of year as a parent, and maybe it’s because I don’t have the patience for “thankful” crafts.  Or maybe I just don’t know how to talk to my children.  Allow me to illustrate:


This weekend is the national collection date for Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child.  Perhaps you know of this charity?  It’s a faith-based effort to deliver Christmas gifts (and biblical lessons) to impoverished children around the world.  You pack a shoebox (or shoebox-sized plastic tub) with small toys, candy, toothbrush & toothpaste, soap & washcloth, pencils, crayons, etc., and drop it off at a local church, whose members then load it onto a truck.  It will get shipped somewhere in the world in time for Christmas, and if you donate a few dollars online, you can barcode your box and then eventually get an email telling you where your gifts ended up.  Last year, ours went to the Philippines.  Tony and I spend, maybe, $50 on four boxes (since there are four of us in our family) and I spread that expense out over the year by purchasing extra toys and things at the dollar store or Target whenever I go (crayons are really inexpensive at back-to-school time, for instance).  It is an awakening to think of how little some kids have in the world.  And to know that the gift of a bar of soap could help a child stay disease-free for the year.


It’s all in the spirit of holiday giving.  I like to receive gifts as much as the next person, sure, but I feel, both from an I’m-a-good-person perspective and from an I’m-a-Christian perspective, that I have a responsibility to give when and where I can to help those in need.  I also give toys to the Forgotten Children’s Fund, toys that stay right here in my hometown, and I buy gloves and hats to give to the local paper’s Christmas fund every year.  It’s important.  I can help.  I feel good doing it.  I like to think that I made life just a little bit brighter for a child in need.  Or several children!  What joy that is!


But how do I explain that to my recalcitrant five-year-old?  When Charles saw the half-packed shoebox that I took to the office this morning (my office packs one, also), he flipped out.  I had put some cheap, plastic toys inside and he WANTED those toys.  He screamed.  He tried to open the box and throw them on the floor.  He cried.  I tried to explain to him that we had lots of toys, THE EXACT SAME TOYS, IN FACT, and that we are going to send these toys to children who don’t get to have presents on Christmas.  Children who sometimes don’t have enough food to eat or clothes to wear or even beds to sleep on.  He just screamed harder, and told me that he didn’t like those boys and girls, that he didn’t want them to have his toys.  It turned into a 20-minute fight with me trying, again and again, to explain to him that he would still get Christmas presents, that I wasn’t giving away his toys, that we would help someone else and spread love in the world.


Last year, we attempted to clean out our toy box before Christmas and donate some gently-used (meaning: my kids NEVER played with them) toys to another local charity we support, Tubs 4 Kids.  Charles threw such an epic fit that we abandoned the project altogether.


I want to teach Charles and Jamie gratitude and charity, but I don’t know how.  I want to teach them that giving to others doesn’t diminish what we have, but rather increases it.  I don’t want to take away the magic of the season, the anticipation of a big party at Thanksgiving or of Santa and presents and lights at Christmas, but I do want them to understand that there is more.  How do you teach empathy to a selfish five-year-old?

1 comment:

Margarita Primavera said...

Something that might help is making him pack the boxes/choose the toys you're giving away. This is what my mom did with us, and part of her thing was that we had to make room for the things we wanted for Christmas (not so sure about that part, but there it is).
She would also take us to the orphanage where we donated the gifts/clothes/food, so it wasn't an abstract concept - we got to see the place where this kids were and what a difference we were making.
Good luck! I'm thinking about this too, so it's been on my mind...