Teaching Generosity

Ever since her birthday in July, Bea has been obsessed about when her birthday is coming again. Because calendars and countdowns are a bit beyond her attention span, I usually do it by counting down the next birthdays we’ll celebrate.

First, we have Kaelyn’s, then Luke’s, then Penelope’s. After that, we’ll have Uncle Brad’s and Grammy’s. And then, Louella’s and Grandma’s. And then your’s!

Usually, I keep it to the month we’re in and keep adding as the weeks pass. There is always someone to add to the list, but as long as we eventually get to hers, Bea is happy.

Bea's First Birthday
Bea’s First Birthday

Lately, there’s been a request by our friends to not bring presents. Most parents let us bend the rules by bringing books or an already-used toy, but it’s an interesting trend. At our last birthday party, we were talking about this – about how kids don’t really need new toys. And, do books really count as presents or are they more of a necessity? (We decided the latter – you can never have too many books!)

I totally get this. Our playroom is brimming with toys – mostly hand-me-downs, though many are new from birthdays and Christmas. Before becoming a parent, I visualized a highly idealized playroom, where just a few, well-picked non-battery powered wooden toys would be rotated through as my child’s attention span needed new stimulation. The reality is a room filled with everything Bea’s ever owned – from infancy to the present. I just don’t have the time or energy to properly categorize our toys, especially knowing that we’ll be mixing them in when this new baby arrives.

The reason I always break the “no present” rule and bring a book is because I want to teach Bea the value of gift giving. It’s a lot of processing anyway when we talk about singing “Happy Birthday” to a friend, but  bringing a present without getting anything in return has been a good lesson. The first couple parties were tough – Bea wanted to know why we were giving away a book that looked so interesting. As we’ve given more presents, her attitude is changing. The idea of giving as part of celebration is slowly being instilled.

Perhaps it’s because both Frank and I love giving gifts that this lesson is so important to me. It’s not that we always give extravagant gifts to each other, but both of us use gift-giving as a way to show love, appreciation, and caring. It’s part of our family dynamic that I want our children to understand – this idea of giving freely and generously. A tangible, two-year-old way to do this is through birthday presents.

I hope, as Bea grows older and birthdays become less important, this lesson translates to all areas of her life. How can we teach her to be generous with her time, talents, and resources? For now, giving a book to a friend is an easy way to begin these conversations.

How do you teach generosity to your kids? What are some other daily ways to instill this value?