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Teach children value of giving

By Keryn Page

MISSISSIPPI STATE -- The holiday season offers many opportunities for parents to teach their children the benefits of giving as well as receiving.

"The holiday season is a great time to step back and really focus on how you and your family can help those in need. When children see parents helping others and getting joy out of doing so, they learn the season is not all about getting presents," said Louise Davis, child and family development specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Different community and faith-based groups organize efforts to help the poor and those in need. Such programs include Meals on Wheels, Toys for Tots, food pantries and Angel Trees. Local churches and newspapers often publicize these events.

"During the Christmas break, volunteer to help out with one of these projects, and bring your child along with you," Davis said. "For school-age children, explain what you're doing and why you're doing it. Children younger than 5 years have a hard time understanding this concept, so just explain in simple terms that you're trying to help someone."

Davis advised encouraging children to be involved in selecting a gift for the Angel Tree or Toys for Tots drive. Let the child help wrap and deliver the present.

Micki Smith, an area Extension child and family development agent, said families also may consider "adopting" a needy family for the holidays. The Salvation Army, American Red Cross and other community service agencies and churches can provide names of families that cannot afford to purchase gifts.

"Allow your children to help you select the gifts and take to the family, if possible. This is a great way to teach the concept that it is more blessed to give than to receive," Smith said.

Nursing homes typically welcome visitors to help cheer up residents. Children can help make fruit baskets or homemade Christmas ornaments to pass out.

"Let your children sing to the residents, and watch as their faces light up as the children visit with them," Smith said. "Another idea to help children learn the joy of giving is to invite a lonely neighbor to help decorate your Christmas tree, and serve cookies and hot chocolate afterward."

While giving gifts to family members is a fun and acceptable tradition during the holiday season, Smith said parents should set limits when it comes to their children's gifts.

"If you want to cut down on the mountains of gifts children receive and their 'I want, I want' tendencies, set boundaries early. For example, tell your children they will receive one large gift and two or three small items in their stockings this year," Smith said. "Setting boundaries in this way helps children to have realistic expectations."

Parents should carefully select the gifts they give children. Appropriate gifts encourage creativity and family togetherness.

"Theme gifts are fun for children when the theme is based on the child's personality. Some ideas include a kid's cooking kit, a junior gardener's kit, an artist's box or a builder's box," Smith said. "The idea is to create a theme gift that reflects the child's likes, talents and personality. It's great to collect little things all year that can go into the theme box."

Give gifts that promote creativity, such as an art kit with markers, water colors and other art media, or similar kits to make things like pottery or jewelry. Smith also suggested giving a jigsaw puzzle for the family to work together, or a board game the family can play together.

Davis said books make great gifts for children, as long as they are age-appropriate. Board books are good for babies and toddlers, and finger puppets that go with books make them even more exciting.

"Good children's literature is always a must. 'The Polar Express' is a notable book for this year -- it's been in print for several years, but with the movie coming out, it would be a great gift for a school-age child," Davis said.

Gifts like balls, bicycles, jump ropes and roller skates can encourage children to become more physically active. These usually require safety equipment, so a parent might suggest other family members purchase helmets, knee pads and other safety items to go along with the main gift.

Make sure painted toys are labeled non-toxic. Use the age labels on toy packaging as a guide when buying gifts for children. For children younger than 3, avoid toys with small parts. Use the open end of a paper towel tube as a measuring guide: toys that can fit through the tube pose a choking risk to young children.

-30-

Released: Nov. 23, 2004
Contact: Dr. Louise Davis, (662) 325-3083
or Micki Smith, (601) 859-2672

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