A few years ago when my twins turned three I watched them open gifts. They tore open the first thing in front of them, got excited for about a second and then asked for the next gift. Of course being three years old meant they were being kids, but it drove me crazy! I’d think: people spent money, time, effort, all sorts of resources that are sometimes hard to come by at the end of the year, so we need to stop and appreciate that for a second. Being a first time mom of two though, I figured this was probably just normal behavior.
But it also seemed to me that the earlier you teach your kids to be good gift receivers AND good gift givers, the better, right?
So last year I gave it my best shot. It was mission “practice our giving” at the Birkbeck house during the holiday season. And you know what? It changed everything! My kids truly found joy in giving and maybe a little empathy for others too. Christmas miracle indeed!
Here are a few of the things we did or are doing. I’m certainly no expert and I would love more suggestions on what you’ve done with your kids to give back.
Salvation Army Bell Ringers
The Salvation Army’s mottos include “Doing the Most Good” and “Changing Lives for the Better.” On a fairly cold evening last December our family signed up to ring the bell outside of Food City in Clinton, TN. My kids had just turned four, but they were really excited about doing this. That excitement lasted a whole five minutes, after which they immediately started whining about it being cold or fighting over who got to ring the bell. But it opened up a great dialogue on why we were doing this and what it’d be like if we didn’t have a jacket to put on, or a warm home to go to. We made the most of it by singing Christmas songs and greeting shoppers with sweet smiles, and I think all of my kids’ cuteness did some serious good.
Random Acts of Giving
My friend Greer once told me that she takes her kids to Starbucks to hand out $5 gift cards to strangers. How sweet is that? So, last year we tried it! I bought 20 $5 gift cards at Target and told the kids they could hand them out to anyone they wanted. They were a little nervous at first. My son walked up to his first person and proudly said “Happy Birthday” instead of “Merry Christmas.” The person he was trying to hand it to never noticed him or turned around. We laughed about this for weeks. It actually broke the ice a little for them too.
It’s really interesting when you start to give things out to people you don’t know at all – you get so many different reactions. Some people were so taken aback with the kindness and insisted on taking their photo. Others politely declined and said “No, thank you.” I think some people thought we were handing out brochures because a few people took them and then later realized what it was and tracked us down to say thank you. One man almost broke down in tears. The very best, most amazing thing to watch was that my kids didn’t hand out these cards to a certain type of person. They reached out to all genders, all races, people in different walks of life. I worry every day that society will teach them to do the opposite of what just comes naturally to them now. But I came home feeling like I had been given the very best Christmas gift I’ve ever gotten: two happy kids who gave to others and loved every second of it.
The Sibling Gift Exchange
I started this when they turned three and it has become one of my favorite Christmas traditions. We pick a night to go Christmas shopping one-on-one (so each kid gets their own night) and we buy a gift for the other one. Last year we spent a lot of time thinking about what the other one would really want — about the things he/she loves. I was so proud that last year instead of asking when they got to open their gifts, my children kept asking when they could give their sibling their gift! Surprisingly they were able to keep it a secret! As a mom of twins, it is not often that I get one-on-one time with each of my kids, so I love that too.
Cuddle and Kind
This year I’m almost done with my Christmas shopping (first time ever) and one thing I am so excited to give my kids are these stuffed animals from Cuddle & Kind. These beautiful, hand crafted dolls are sure to be a favorite in our house because each doll provides 10 meals for a child in need. There’s a precious armband on each doll that reads “10 meals,” which is the perfect reminder that kids were helped by your purchase and of all the blessings we have. These dolls are so sweet and I highly recommend them! Shhhhhh, these are the ones my kids are getting this year…
Out with the Old
Donating toys they no longer play with is something I know a lot of families do right before Christmas and we are no exception. It definitely helps to rid your own house of the clutter, and knowing the toys will help make another child’s Christmas is priceless too.
One night when my kids were staying with my mother and father-in-law, Grammy and Papou took them to buy presents for kids from the Angel Tree they had at church. They bought diapers and pajamas and sheets. My son found the same sheets he has and choose to get them for the little boy from the Angel Tree.
Merry Christmas mamas – may the gift of giving be a glowing presence in your homes this year.