Thursday, 9 December 2010

Encouraging generosity in children

It can be hard during the Christmas season to encourage a spirit of giving, generosity, and compassion in our children. The opposite is steadily reinforced with everyone from family to strangers asking them, "what do you want for Christmas?" or "what have you asked Santa to bring you this year?" Difficult or not, there are a variety of ways we can provide our children with opportunities to cultivate generosity:

Purchase an Angel Tree gift

Angel Trees allow families to have gifts for their children under the tree on Christmas morning. Consider having each child choose a gift for a child their own age. Alternatively, purchase a gift for a teenager, as they are most often overlooked on Angel Trees. Contact your local Christmas Bureau for Angel Tree locations and for other ways you can help this season.

Donate some of their own toys

Have children go through their toys and choose some to donate to Goodwill. Not only is this an exercise in generosity, it serves the dual purpose of making room for the inevitable new toys on Christmas morning.

I found this story particularly poignant (taken from this article):
"I know of a mom and dad who had their kids go through all their toys one December and make two piles. The first pile would include the toys they planned on giving away; the second, toys they felt were worth keeping. (This made room for the new toys they’d soon receive on Christmas.)

The clincher was, this mom and dad talked about sacrificial giving, and shared how they planned to give one of their cars to a needy family. Then, they had their children give away the pile of toys they had planned to keep.

Sacrifice is true generosity. It was hard for a few moments, but unforgettable in the end. Those kids still talk about that incredible experience four years later."

Perform random acts of kindness and service

Give your children encouragement and opportunities to find ways to show others kindness. Homemade gifts for a sibling or a small act of service for a parent are great examples, and are even better when done anonymously. Brainstorm ideas with them as to what they can do to bless and serve others.

A tangible way to see the results of these small acts is to add a piece of straw to a makeshift manger with each good dead performed. In this way, they are effectively building a bed for Jesus as Christmas Day approaches.

Bake cookies for a neighbour or emergency service workers

Children can assist in baking cookies and leaving them for a neighbour. Alternatively (or in addition!), take a plate of cookies to your local firestation or police station to say thank you to those spending Christmas Eve or Christmas Day at work.

Make winter kits for homeless people

Many agencies serving homeless people hand out winter survival kits as the cold weather approaches. While you can check with your local program to find what they put in their kits, the typical one will include socks, mittens, a hat, toiletries, snacks, a blanket, and a gift card, all packed into a backpack or duffel bag. This makes an ideal group project as well.

Send cards to friends and grandparents

Give the gift of honour by sending cards to loved one. Rather than a generic Christmas message, have the child be specific in sharing why they are thankful for this person. Similarly, include children in choosing and wrapping gifts for others, allowing them to take part in the joy of giving.


Serving at soup kitchens and visiting nursing homes are popular ways families can volunteer to help others. Christmas Bureaus often need volunteers to sort through toy donations. Volunteering will depend on the age of the children and the opportunities available, so check with your local volunteer agency to see where your family can help this year.


Food banks often feel the crunch around the holidays, and the Salvation Army is out with their bells and red buckets. Kids enjoy dropping coins in the bucket, knowing the money will help those who need it. To make it more personal, they can do chores around the house to earn their own coins to buy a can of food or to drop in the bucket.

Share the season

Christmas can be a lonely time for many people. If you know a college student, widow, single parent, or anyone else who might be feeling alone, invite them to join in your Christmas celebrations.

Put together a box for Operation Christmas Child

Operation Christmas Child is a wonderful program that provides Christmas gifts to children in need around the world. It is a perfect opportunity for children to be involved in choosing items to prepare a gift for a child living in poverty.

New this year is Build a Box, allowing you to customize and pay for a shoebox online, to be packed and shipped by OCC volunteers. This option is less tangible for young children, but can be a good alternative if you are short on time.

Order from a gift catalogue

Samaritan's Purse, Compassion, and World Vision all have gift catalogues that allow you to provide real, practical support to those in need. With everything from soccer balls to chickens to wells, there's something for every budget. Browse through the catalogues with your children and involve them in choosing a family gift. These also make great gifts for extended family members when purchased in their name.

Don't stop after Christmas

Cultivating a spirit of generosity and compassion is a year-round venture, and the need for generosity is in no way limited to the holiday season. Find a way to make it tangible for children. One approach is to put cash in a jar, perhaps a set amount each month, a certain percent of your income, or a few dollars every time your family does something fun that costs money (add $5 to the jar every time you go out for dinner, for example). At the end of the month, sit down with your children and decide together what you will do with the money. Choose a charity to donate it to, prepare a kit for a homeless person, or use it to bless a family in need.

Most importantly, talk about how and why we give to others, and model a consistently generous, caring, and compassionate life.

How do you encourage generosity in your child(ren)?


  1. This is a great idea for everyone to remember to be generous.

  2. oh this is a wonderful list Cynthia! It's important to me that nurture generosity in Luke... perhaps its only a stigma thats firmly attached in MY head.. but i've met too many people with only-child syndrome that never learned how to share and be generous... I'm hoping Luke will be a generous only-child.. :)