The gift of giving — learning from the young

This past fall, my 8 year old son was writing up thank you notes for the presents he received for his birthday. At one point, he put down his pencil and said, “Mom, I really like all of these presents and it was really nice for everyone to get them for me. But I don’t need them. I wish they had gotten something for the animals at the shelter instead.” Honestly, this came out sincerely and I was so proud of him for thinking at this level.

We discussed it and he decided that for the holidays this year, that he only wanted one gift from us  and is asking his extended family to give him donations for the animal shelter in lieu of a gift. And while he’s happy to take cash for the shelter, he’s specifically asking for old shoe boxes, tennis balls, and homemade dog biscuits that the animals can use.

It should be an interesting Christmas Day, as the entire family is coming over to our house. We usually stack all of the cousins’ presents into piles and then let them have at it. He’ll have his one gift (it’s an MP3-playing remote control car) and inevitably will get a few smaller gifts as well. (I’ve resisted buying him “extra gifts” and instead will be presenting him with stack of dog biscuit recipes that we can make together on Christmas day.) And he’ll have a big pile of shoe boxes, tennis balls, and dog biscuits while the other kids are unwrapping toy after toy after toy. Will he be envious of the other kids’ toys? Or will he learn at this tender young age that giving gifts can be just as fun — or even more fun — than receiving gifts for one’s self?

So here’s my recommendation on gifts for this holiday season — give the gift of learning to give gifts, especially to charities that your kids believe in. My six year old daughter has focused on homelessness as a problem that she wants to address — although she has as yet to do anything concrete about this concern. But this year, I’m going to encourage her to think of something that she can contribute, from art that can hang on a shelter wall to baking cookies for a holiday dinner. So I’m learning from my son, teaching my daughter, and in the end, hoping that we all come out of the holidays with a better appreciation of this gift giving ritual.

Cross-posted on


~ by charleneli on December 7, 2006.

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