Does Your Kid Feel Grateful? Mine Does…Now

Two things happen in December — Christmas and Anders’ birthday — which together ensure that by month’s end we can’t walk across the house without wading through a pile of new toys and gadgets. We combat this great influx by spending a good portion of the weekend before Christmas cleaning out Anders’ room and selecting things to donate.

In years past this is something we’ve done without his knowledge. We weren’t sure his 3-year-old and younger mind could grasp the concept of donation and, to be honest, we just wanted to get the job done as quickly as possible as this clean out always falls in the final moments of holiday scrambling. Last year we donated six bags of toys. Six bags! I’m not sure what is more troubling, the fact that we had that much to donate or that Anders never noticed that any of it was missing. This is likely because those six bags barely put a dent in the mountain of things that Anders acquired that year.

Anders is a sweet kid. He is affectionate and bright and imaginative, but one thing I believe I have failed to adequately instill in him at this point is a sense of gratitude. It’s not only gratitude that he lacks, though, it is also perspective.  I was reading a timely article today by Randye Hoder over on Motherlode in which the she explains why she thinks that now more than ever is the time to talk to our children about wealth and class.

The Occupy Wall Street movement, sparked in part by the fact that many Americans have watched their income stagnate while the financial elite have seen theirs skyrocket, has brought these issues front and center. While we certainly are not in the 1%, we aren’t exactly hurting financially and the existence of the “have nots” is a truth which is completely lost on my son who is arguably a part of the “haves.”

I’m not proposing we all have a serious discussion on socioeconomics with our 5-year-olds (or maybe I am), but this year we did not opt to make a sweep of Anders’ room in his absence. Instead we sat him down, explained to him that we were all going to go to his room and spend a little time picking out toys he no longer played with and clothing he no longer fit in to donate to children who didn’t have those things and honestly I think the news shocked him.

Not just because we were about to force him to part with some of his vast wealth of playthings, but that there were kids out there that didn’t have a room with toys stacked to the ceiling. It was clear from his expression that this was a concept he had never considered. The longer we were in his room sorting through things the more and more willing he was to drop them into the donation bag.

“Do you think another kid would want this robot, mom? What about this dump truck? How about my coat from last year? Would this make someone happy?”

It was that last question that got me. I think I underestimate sometimes the depth of understanding these little people I am raising can reach. Perhaps he has a few years before he will be ready for a lesson on wealth and class, but gratitude for what we have and the importance of giving? He’s never been too young for that lesson.

Sharing Values, Keeping Toys: Holding back on giving too much during the holidays

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