The festive season, for many of us, is the ultimate excuse for indulgences of all sorts. Sinful sugary fatty food, expensive dresses and gadgets, and gifts galore – who doesn’t love all these hallmarks of festivity! But Diwali, Christmas and New Year can also be the perfect excuse for doing a good deed.
“Relatives always have one question for children during festivals – ‘What did you get for Diwali?’ If we were to ask children ‘What did you give during Diwali?’, the focus will be more on giving than on getting,” says M Vasuki, a Chennai-based psychologist.
Giving, however, doesn’t come naturally to most of us. We can always go back to that moment in our childhood when our parents probably had to coax and cajole us into lending our favourite doll to a younger sibling.
“When you ask the older child to share his toys with the younger one, he may get back broken toys. The next time, the child will think twice before giving as he does not want his toys to be returned broken or even go missing. Insecurity, losing control over his possessions – these are the emotions he associates with giving. So, giving has to be practised regularly if the child is not to feel threatened,” she adds.
Here is how you can instil in your child a spirit of generosity so that giving becomes a habit for life year round:
Show them the way.
“Make it an expectation in your family that your children will give and serve. If you show by example that one of your family’s values is helping others, children will get the message that this is something important their parents do and that they should be a part of it,” says Susan Crites, author of The Giving Family: Raising Our Children to Help Others, in an email interview.
“When I was in high school, I remember how my Mom made me teach English to our maid’s daughter. Initially, I tried to wriggle out of it by saying I didn’t have time. But once I started teaching, I began to look forward to our sessions, and also discovered that I have an aptitude for teaching the language,” says Sarbani Chakraborty, an English school teacher in Kolkata.
Sarbani is ensuring that her 6-year-old daughter Srinika practises giving by donating old toys or clothes to her maid’s children. During special occasions like birthdays, she makes her daughter hand over new clothes and sweets to the less privileged in the neighbourhood.
Catch ‘em young
Start right away by ensuring that your child shares his books and toys generously with friends who come over to play. Point out to your child how happy he feels when his friends share their toys and chocolates with him.“The earlier you inculcate in them a habit of generosity, the easier it becomes to accept it as a way of life. Later, in their professional lives and in relationships, they will not have trouble sharing, giving or ‘adjusting’,” says Vasuki.
Help your children find their passions
“Your children will be more interested in volunteering if the projects fit in with their interests. If your child loves animals, find out if he can help with a pet adoption event. A teenager with computer skills can teach children or senior citizens to use computers, or help a social service agency with its Facebook page. The choices are endless, but children need adults to help them identify opportunities,” says Susan.
Give with dignity
All of us surely know of a friend or relative who gives away an unusable lampshade or a broken CD player to the maid as ‘charity’. Well, there is nothing charitable about donating something that cannot be used by another person.
“Parents should always teach children to give with dignity, keeping in mind the sensitivity and need of the recipients,” says Meenakshi Gupta, co-founder of Goonj, an NGO that collects items like clothing to be donated to the needy in rural India.
Giving is not limited to just tangible items. Spending time with a grandparent is also a form of giving.“Encourage your children to smile and say ‘Thank you’ to people who help them daily like their drivers, and ayahs,”says Meenakshi.
“Our children do not appreciate what they have. When you give your children a chance to help others, they learn to appreciate what they have. It will ensure that they do not always moan and whine for every item they see in a mall,” says Aarti Madhusudan, a volunteer with Joy of Giving which celebrates the Joy of Giving week every year in October.
“Read and discuss stories that have ‘giving’ themes like The Rainbow Fish. Children also love to hear about life when their parents were young. Talk about some of the ways your family was helped by others or a time when you found a way to help,” says Susan.
“You can also share mythological stories of giving, like the one of Krishna and Kuchelan,” says Vasuki.
Start a giving circle
“A giving circle allows children to pool their resources (allowance) with their family members or friends to have a greater impact, even with small amounts of money. Then the group collectively picks one or more organizations to donate to. Or, start a volunteer club where adults and children can work together on a project the children choose,”says Susan.
Don’t forget the praise
As professionals, you may avail of tax deduction and other such tangible benefits when you donate to charity. But that is not so with children.
“Show your appreciation when your child gives away things to others. This verbal feedback will have a strong effect as they begin to connect giving with positive returns for themselves,” says Vasuki.
“There is an after-glow when we do good, a satisfaction and happiness that flows from genuine giving. If children experience this, they will become givers for life,” says Meenakshi.
The Good Samaritan
Eighteen-year-old Shrinidhi Madhusudan, a class 12 student at Abacus Montessori School in Chennai, believes in goodness, and goes out of her way to spread the message.
“As a child, when we were in London, my parents would give me a pound a week as pocket money. When I collected 5 pounds, I would give it away to someone who I felt needed it more than I did. Later, in India, I took initiatives to do our bit for society by collecting old clothes from the school and donating it to the NGO Goonj,” she says.
This year, Shrinidhi decided to throw a party for the school ayahs and security people as a thanksgiving gesture.
“We asked students to donate `10 every day during the Joy of Giving week. Even a few teachers chipped in; and we managed to collect `6,700. Along with our vice-principal, we went shopping at Nalli’s! It was amazing fun - choosing the sarees and the veshtis! On D-day, we asked the ayahs and the menfolk to sit on the stage. A few children came on stage and spoke about their fond memories, while the ayahs too had a few words to say. Later, we gave them our gifts along with a box of sweets, to express our gratitude,” recounts Shrinidhi.
For a good cause, Shrinidhi doesn’t mind doing a spy act.
“Once I saw a neighbour who emptied her trash on the road. I was so upset that I followed her home and shouted at her. How can an adult behave so irresponsibly? I told her she had no right to make my beautiful neighbourhood ugly. Whenever I catch someone doing this, I make it a point to follow them and give them a little message,” she laughs.
“You can make a difference, however small. And you don’t need plenty of money to make someone happy!”
Volunteering for a Cause
Rishub Das is a typical 15-year-old student at Los Altos High School, California. He loves to play video games and water polo, and dreams of becoming a lawyer. Rishub relates how he volunteered to teach underprivileged children at Agamya School in New Delhi in June 2012:
“I wanted to raise awareness in the US about Indian NGOs.
My grandparents in India duly arranged with Ravi Kalra, the site director of the NGO ‘The Earth Saviours Foundation’, to provide a teaching assignment for me, spanning three weeks.
At first, I was a little anxious. But the children treated me with respect, and I realised that the impoverished are not bitter, that they are human just like me.
I connected with these students in a new way. The feeling was very expansive and all-embracing, far more satisfying than what one feels while volunteering to serve food in a soup kitchen in the US. It was in this school that I learned that the feeling of giving was just as good as the feeling of receiving.“
“To help others, you don’t have to be rich or of a certain age. You should be creative in your ideas, persistently seek out opportunities and act upon them (this is what my Mom always tells me).”