Thanksgiving is a great holiday for parents to teach their children about giving back.
It's one of the few holidays that is shared by people of all faiths in the United States and the absence of gift giving and receiving can help your kids focus on what really is the true meaning of Thanksgiving, being thankful for what one has.
Why is it important to teach children about being thankful?
Dr. Mary Ann: Raising kids today in our modern over -materialistic society, we don't have many opportunities to stress what is really important. Beginning at four and five years of age, children understand the concept of saying "thank you." It will be a few more years before they really understand the concept of "thankfulness" for food and shelter. So the first step of instilling a sense of philanthropy into children is teaching them not to take what they have for granted.
Using the Thanksgiving meal as a starting point, take some time to include everyone in creating the menu, selecting the food, and even preparing the food. Turn off the video games and get everyone involved. Kids can really enjoy scooping out squash and even potato peeling when old enough. Even three or four year olds can help set the table. Talk about the meaning of the harvest and the importance of healthy sufficient food for children and families all over the world.
You say the first step of instilling a sense of philanthropy into children is teaching them not to take what they have for granted. How do we do that?
Dr. Mary Ann: This Thanksgiving start a new tradition and have everyone, even the youngest members of the family, say "thank you" at the dinner table. Ask the children to tell everyone what they feel thankful for. Share your own thoughts. You may be surprised at how interested your kids are in what you say and you may learn something from their answers.
The theme of sharing what we have with others who are in need is something that children as young as four can begin to understand. Even three-year-olds can grasp the concept of sharing. And especially in a year when so many people are in need, this is a great time to begin teaching about giving.
Discuss as a family: what are the needs of the community and what can we do to help. Get ideas from everyone and decide on a small project that your family will do. This could be a great family tradition that teaches your children about giving back.
Could this educational lesson in thank you also lead to a tradition of philanthropy?
Dr. Mary Ann: Raising a responsible child, means instilling in them a sense of philanthropy right from the start. As our children get older they may begin to take everything they have for granted, unless we take a moment to help them think about how other children, even in our own communities, may have much less. Thanksgiving provides a great opportunity to start the discussion.
Let your children know how you help out in your community and beyond. Volunteering and making financial donations should be celebrated in your family. Unless we take the time to talk to our children about this, they will not truly understand the need to give back. Your own example is the most powerful lesson that your children will learn about caring for others.