Welcome to Joyful Toddlers!

This space is about increasing our enjoyment of the young children in our lives through concrete action and by adjusting the lens through which we view them. My work comes out of LifeWays, which is inspired by Waldorf education. I welcome your comments, and questions about increasing your enjoyment of the children in YOUR life.


Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Spirit of Giving

The holiday time is a wonderful time to help children develop the spirit of giving. Instead of giving out all of your gifts at once, try giving a gift to one person each week for six weeks, so that each time is a significant experience. Giving away things that you and the children have made together, or choosing things that you already own to give away makes the experience feel much more meaningful. Here is an example of what you might do:

WEEK 1: Gift your neighbors. Bake banana bread (or whatever you love to bake), put a ribbon around it, and take it over to your neighbors. Even if you don't know your neighbors very well, they will probably appreciate a gift in the holiday spirit, and it may open doors to getting to know them! Make a card with your child: he can color it, and you write a message that the two of you come up with together. When you and your child notice their lights on, go over and give it to them together. Children love giving gifts, but they often get too shy with excitement to present them. Even children I've seen five days a week for two years sometimes have trouble presenting me with a gift. So be prepared to do the talking, but know that your child is participating through you.

WEEK 2: Gift your play-group teacher or favorite babysitter. Teachers get lots of gifts, so think carefully about what will be appreciated. I love baked gifts, but if your teacher is watching her waistline it may not be a good idea. One of the best gifts I've gotten from a family was a gift certificate to Whole Foods in a card that parent and child had made together. It seemed both thoughtful and practical.

WEEK 3: Gift children who won't get many gifts. Help your child choose some of his toys to give to children who won't get presents, and take them to a homeless shelter or an organization like Toys for Tots. This is actually a good thing to do once a month or every other month. The average American child gets about 70 new toys each year, but children who have fewer toys tend to be more creative and appreciate the ones they have, according to Pamela Paul, author of the book Parenting, Inc. Going through your toys regularly and giving away the ones that could be better used by another child can be a wonderful way to foster a spirit of giving in your children.

WEEK 4: Gift the grandparents. A lovely gift for grandparents is a photo of your child in a frame that you and your child decorate together. If you know your parents would hate a frame like that, then perhaps make special wrapping paper for it.

WEEK 5: Gift the elders. If you have elderly friends, make a special trip to visit them and give a gift. If you don't, consider going to a local nursing home. I suggest a small, homey assisted-living home so the setting isn't too overwhelming for your child. I used to take 3-4 children each week to visit the elders at Anam Chara, a waldorf-inspired assisted-living home that housed twelve elders. Both the children and the elders loved these visits.

WEEK 6: Gift dad. Dads love gifts that moms and kids make especially for him. If dad lives at home with you, you might take him somewhere special to present the gift: go to the ice-skating rink to present a pair of gloves, to the zoo to present a wooly hat. Make sure that he knows in advance that this is a special trip in his appreciation, and make him feel as special as possible. It's nice to get this sort of acknowledgment when it's least expected!

          And of course, don't forget to make Thank You cards with your child for each person from whom he receives a gift. Help him decorate them and have him dictate a thank-you message that you write down. These are often hilarious and are always appreciated. If you can, have him give the thank you cards personally, instead of putting them in the mail. Teach them to say “Thank you for your gift” when they hand it out. Practice on the way over, but if they get too shy to say it themselves, ask “Would you like me to say it for you this time?” When you say something for a child, they often feel like they're saying it themselves, so don't worry if they still ask you to say it for them the fourth or fifth time. They will say it for themselves soon enough.

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