This year, Christmas is going to be magical. At the age my daughter is now enjoying, she really GETS Christmas. She knows who Santa is and wants to see him. She wants to decorate every last inch of our house in snowflakes and mistletoe. She wants to paint ornaments and decorate cookies. She is excited for her grandparents to come and spend time with us. She is waiting for “magical Christmas snow.” She is the magic that this season is all about.
There’s one thing that she is also ready to start learning about: Giving to others.
We’ve been doing as much as we can. Filling shoeboxes. Dropping off food at the food bank. Buying special toys to donate. Baking cookies for our neighbors. Making art for her friends and teachers. Donating snow suits.
And we’ve been talking about it like crazy. But I quickly realized the one thing that was blocking her from truly being able to understand and really get in to the groove of giving.
Her worldview, being very limited yet, doesn’t allow her to grasp that there are people in the world (and in her own community) that are less fortunate than she is. And most younger children are faced with the same confusing message.
Consider this: We’ve been busy telling our children that they are so lucky and that not all kids have toys, homes, food or even family like they do. BUT, they can’t fathom this because they have no experience with it.
My daughter is in preschool. We attend different playgroups and she does activities like dance, soccer and swimming. She has lots of friends. She has grandparents who love her and dote on her. She has a very comfortable lifestyle where she doesn’t want for anything and she gets to work towards rewards for doing things like making her bed or getting herself dressed in the morning. Her whole world is limited to this view.
So, when we tell her about these children who aren’t as fortunate as her and tell her we need to give to them, all she can picture are the children who she attends all these activities with. These other kids come in good spirits and with caregivers that attend to their every need, so she can’t understand that some kids don’t have families. They all eat snack together, so she can’t understand that other kids are hungry. They are all so similar that she just assumes that they live a life very akin to hers.
She has never walked down the street and been asked for change by a homeless person. She has never visited a country with wide-spread poverty and seen the conditions that average people live in. She has never known what it feels like to go without a meal or a snack when she needed one, or what it feels like to shiver in the cold with only a light jacket because proper winter attire isn’t in the budget. She has never known anything but an environment where every need is met and every achievement is celebrated.
She simply doesn’t know.
And I take great pride in that. I feel grateful that my husband and I are able to provide such a comfortable life for our children. We are so elated to know that our children don’t know this kind of heartache or heaviness in their hearts. We are very lucky to not to have heard our child cry themselves to sleep because they’re hungry.
But it makes it very difficult for her to understand why the toys we’re picking out aren’t for her. Or why a box of food from our pantry is so important to someone else. Or why spending two hours of her time ringing a bell for change can make such a difference.
This is what our job as parents is. These are the things that need to be taught.
While math and language arts and politics are all necessary things for them to learn, none of it matters without a broad worldview and a compassion for our neighbors. If we can teach our children about the struggles that others face and give them the tools to help, we are giving them the tools to grow up to be emotionally intelligent problem solvers. No longer are we asking them “What do you want to be when you grow up?” We are now asking them “What problems can I solve when I grow up?” People with this beautiful mindset are the ones that move mountains.
And it all starts with not just giving, but understanding why we do so.
If you’re like me and you have young children, there are so many ways you can start to broaden their worldview without worrying them (and believe me, I understand that some of these concepts can be distressing for a young child who craves security like water).
We have found good success with two things this year. The first is YouTube. As we packed our shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child and wrote letters to the kids that would get our boxes, I played them videos of children who receive the boxes. The videos show their lifestyle — where the live, how they eat and even some of the “chores” they have to do daily to keep their family afloat. Even my daughter recognized that making her bed was not on the same level as hauling buckets of water for miles.
These videos also show the children opening their boxes and the sheer joy that they get from something so small to us.
We’ve also talked a lot about feelings, asking her about how she thinks people feel when they receive the gifts we are able to give (food, money, clothes, toys, our time). This has been so successful in getting her to think about the result instead of just the action itself.
If my child comes to understand that we rise by lifting others, I will be a happy mom.
Brianne Zwambag is a full-time boo-boo healer, snack artist, janitor, referee, master storyteller and child stylist in Fort St. John, B.C. who sometimes gets a chance to sit down and write about life, mommyhood and the issues that surround it.