One year we were getting ready to hand out birthday invitations and someone asked what my son would like for his birthday. I had to stop and really think about it. Christmas had just been over a month away and I had already purchased him the 2 or 3 things he had wanted for his birthday. In all honesty, he didn't really NEED anything. It was a stretch coming up with ideas for his aunts, uncles, grandparents and other extended family members.
We're lucky. Not everyone has such a large family who want to help celebrate these special occasions. It also means they get royally spoiled!
It got me thinking about the 10 kids we were about to invite over for his party and I realized he just didn't need another 10 gifts on top of all the gifts he would get from his family. So we sat down and talked to both kids about how fortunate they were to have such a large loving family and to already have a pretty full toybox. We decided to pick 2 charities and see which one spoke to the kids more. That year they both picked the Humane Society and the Food Bank as the charities they would like to support.
Don't get me wrong, it wasn't an easy conversation. There were a few tears at first because they didn't understand why they give gifts at parties and didn't get any back. Understandable, they were very young. It took many assurances that they would still have new toys and clothes, just not as much.
Since then we have asked parents to make a donation, or bring a donation in lieu of birthday presents. In the 3 years we've been doing this we have supported the Humane Society, Santas Anonymous, The Food Bank and Ronald McDonald House. Each place we have supported has made my children feel incredibly special for their donations.
This year when we dropped off the donations to the Ronald McDonald House Northern Alberta we were given a tour of the facilities. My son was quite shy and I wasn't sure how much of it he was taking all in. But later when we picked up his sister from school I had tears in my eyes when I heard him recount his experience to her. He told her all about how the kids get to pick a blankie (actually a handmade quilt) when they arrive at the house. He told her about how if the kids are really sick and having a bad day, or if they are leaving the house after treatment they get to take a special gift out of the magic room. He was also quite excited to tell her about the playroom that you can be really loud in and how many kitchens they have in the house.
It stuck! He actually got at least a part of what we were doing and why.
Someone once told me that the earlier you can start a child in volunteering and charitable acts the more it will become a second nature for them.
There are many ways you can teach your child to give back. You can get them to help you shovel the walk of an elderly neighbour, you can collect spare change for a local charity, or they can pack up old games and books to donate. Most important is to just start them young so they can carry on making a difference as they grow and hopefully they will do the same with their own children one day.