There’s a feeling of hospitality in Hawaii that reaches out from the islands and invites you inside. It’s this spirit of giving that I try to embrace with my own ohana (family) right here at home. As a mom of two kids, I know how challenging this can be—just ask my two year old to share a toy and the look you might get says ‘are you kidding me?’ However putting the following ideas in place not only gets easier each time but also encourages a spirit of giving in even the youngest kids.
Start local, move global. Children learn about the world starting with what they see at home and growing outwards as they get older. My son may not understand where Africa is, but he knows he has a cat at home. Encouraging giving toward the family cat is the first step—then we can encourage giving to the cat rescue in town, the local zoo, then perhaps a lion rescue in Africa.
Find their passion. Even at 4 years old my daughter loves babies—she reacts to seeing them in stores, the mall, the playground. When people ask what my daughter wants for her birthday I answer that she’d like books and blankets for the Team Abby Foundation instead. That’s the charitable foundation we created to help families with babies in the NICU; my daughter loves opening (and then donating) the gifts for the babies in the hospital. We’ll still give her a few birthday gifts but instead of a huge influx of toys we’re now able to spread our gratitude that she’s healthy by sharing the birthday love!
Save, Give, Spend. When my children get money-- whether it’s allowance, birthday money, or change they find in the couch cushions-- they put it in their ‘save, give, spend’ piggy banks. When those are full the ‘save’ money goes into bank accounts, ‘spend’ money goes toward something they’d like to buy, and ‘give’ money goes to a charity of their choosing. Pocket change really adds up, and soon kids learn how great it feels to give to others.
Volunteer. Not all giving is dollar related. Volunteering at a church, a local shelter, or even in other states and countries shows that time is as precious as money!
Don’t squish the caterpillar. Teaching your kids to be kind towards even the tiniest earthworm can impart a big lesson. When we find a spider outdoors we marvel at its web, admire its skills, and leave it alone. This teaches compassion which leads to big things in life.
Move like a monkey. Simply looking at a monkey might not convey how we’re connected. But if kids are given a chance to move like a monkey, crawl like an alligator, and chirp like a bird they start to see the thread that ties us all together. Knowing we’re connected means they’ll work hard to make the earth safe for their animal friends.
Make it concrete. Donating outgrown toys is one of the hardest things for kids to do. Explaining the toys are going to make another child happy (especially if we are handing them down to a friend they know) goes a long way in easing the sting of letting go. My daughter now smiles when she knows her toys are going to a child she adores, and soon she’ll appreciate donating them to the thrift store as well.
Teaching children the art of compassion and the spirit of giving is one of the most important skills you can impart—and the hardest with young kids, too. Hopefully these ideas will help your children continue to embrace a spirit of giving!