Adapted from a recent online discussion.
DEAR CAROLYN: Our son’s 5th birthday is next week. A birthday party will make for an enormous amount of presents, and we have this problem at Christmas, too. This year, I would like to have our son donate at least half of his presents to a charitable organization. My husband thinks our son is too young to appreciate charitable giving so we should instead just hide some of the presents and then donate them ourselves.
I agree this will be difficult for our son; I expect tears and resistance. Should I push the issue? How can we age-appropriately convey that giving to others is the right thing to do?
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— When to Push Your Child
DEAR WHEN TO PUSH YOUR CHILD: I don’t think it’s right to force anyone to donate their gifts, much less a 5-year-old.
I think it’s much better to unlink the charitable giving from the yanking away of gifts.
Teaching your son to find joy in giving is the easier part, obviously. First, make sure you include him in gift-giving — to each other, his friends, relatives. If he picks things out, then he learns he wasn’t put on Earth merely to receive, and he can also experience the fun of imagining what someone might like.
If he flips out in the store because it’s not all for him, then back off until he’s a half-year older. Repeat as needed.
Second, get him involved in charitable giving — be it volunteering time, donating outgrown clothes and toys, doing a walk-a-thon, earmarking part of his allowance when he starts getting one, etc.
The other half of the equation is to reduce the gift glut — and that is better dealt with on the supply side, because you’re presumably negotiating with adults instead of 5-year-olds. (Admittedly, the distinction is often finer than it needs to be.)
For his birthday party, you can:
• Institute a grab bag, where everyone brings a small gift (set a dollar limit) and everyone takes one home. Bonus: It wipes out the goody-bag nuisance.
• Specify “no gifts” and make the party itself your gift to your son. Kids grasp, this, I swear.
• Skip the party and just invite one to three of his favorite people to one of his favorite places.
At Christmastime, talk to relatives about pulling back. Some will ignore this request or take offense, but the Earth wants you to try.
We’d triage our kids’ existing toys for donation items before an upcoming celebration. We explained that they would be receiving a lot of cool new things, so it was time to give outgrown toys to kids whose families couldn’t afford to give them as much.
If you can, make the kid a part of the sorting process (I confess, I always did a second round after ours went to bed to get rid of more things I knew they wouldn’t miss). Even better if he can accompany you for the drop-off. Kids that age do understand that others live in less fortunate circumstances.
DEAR ANONYMOUS: Good stuff, thanks. After the late-night sort, though, we would hold those toys in the basement for a while to make sure they wouldn’t be missed — then we’d donate them. A little oops-proofing can keep “donation” from becoming a dirty word.