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Does Your Child Really Need More Presents?  Using Birthdays as Opportunities to Teach Kids about Giving Back

It’s been an eventful week- and no, I’m not referring to the “events” (or tweets, or tapes) in Washington that are currently consuming all news and social media channels.  I’m talking about something else that occurred over the past five days.

My son had his first birthday.

And aside from all that goes along with that (mostly looking back at pictures of my 39-week pregnant self, thinking, “you have NO idea what you are about to get yourself into” both in terms of the birthing process AND the first year of motherhood), we celebrated this momentous milestone with a good ole American Style Birthday Party.  Yes, one that was complete with pizza, cake, face painting and balloon animals (OK, we may have gone a bit overboard, but he only turns 1 once!).  Of course, no one throws a one year old a birthday party because it will be fun for the child, they do it to let their friends know that they survived- and because they want cake. For some of us…

it’s always about the cake.  And presents.

Presents are a big deal to us Gen X-ers…the ones that were brought up with “stuff” and more “stuff” AND an endless desire for “more”.  But you know what?  By now, most of us have realized that “stuff” doesn’t make us happy.  You know what we’ve realized does make us happy, though?  Giving to others, especially giving to those in need.  So how about this…instead of passing down the desire for “more” to our kids, we could change things up a bit and instill in them the notion that giving is better than receiving, or as St. Francis of Assisi put it,

“For it is in giving that we receive.”

And what better way to teach our kids about this than at their birthdays and other special celebrations? (If you still need convincing as to why this is a good idea for our kids, read this article posted by PBSparents here).

For example, at my son’s birthday this past weekend, we asked our guests for donations to one of our favorite charities, instead of gifts.  I know, I know…it’s easy to do when he’s little because he won’t know the difference, right?  We can continue this from this point forward and he will think that this is just how birthdays “work”. 

But you can do this with your kids too…

…for their next birthday, bar/bat mitzvah, or any other celebration/ milestone in their lives.  I’m sure some of you are worried about the reaction that your kids will have to this idea- that they will be disappointed and sad about missing out on gifts and presents.  And while that may be true at first, remember that it’s our job, as adults, to present this to them in a way which gets them excited about sharing some of what they have, with others.  Parents Magazine published a great article that gives examples of 3 families and how they creatively suggested donations and the idea of helping others into their kids’ birthday celebrations- check it out here.

For additional tips on how to incorporate donations into your kids’ upcoming celebrations and teach them about giving back, see below:

  • Make it easy! Use an e-invitation for the upcoming celebration and include a donation link right on the invitation.  Your guests will love the fact that they don’t have to run to the nearest toy store to pick up a gift 15 minutes before arriving at the party. 
    • What if your favorite charity doesn’t have a link for online donations? No worries, you can set-up your own giving campaign and link on sites like gofundme.com.
    • What if you’re not sure about who you want to donate to? You can search trusted sites like Crowdrise or Charity Navigator’s Giving Basket by category (animals, children in need, the environment) for responsible charities that support your interests and will provide information on how your guests can contribute.
    • For additional resources (including instructions and links to the ones listed above), go to the For-Purpose Kids Giving Page on our website here.
  • If creating your own e-invitation with a donation link sounds too complicated- OR you’re worried about your child’s reaction to the idea of not receiving ANY gifts at their celebration, use one of the online invitation platforms listed here.
    • kidscangivetoo.com allows you to create an e-invitation online with a donation link, where 50% of the money collected will go to your selected charity on their site (there are several to choose from) and 50% will go to a gift card for your child so he/ she can select a gift of his/ her choosing…it really is the best of both worlds.
    • twopresents.com is also an e-invitation platform that allows you to receive funds for a selected charity and a gift for the child, but with TwoPresents, you can select the percentages you’d like to allocate between the charity and the gift card. Available in Hong Kong only at this time.
  • Ask guests to bring specific donation items to the party (either in addition to, or in lieu of gifts) such as non-perishable food items or toys that can be donated to kids in need. Following the party, this will give you and your child a perfect opportunity to deliver the items to the charity organization together and see, first-hand, the benefit that these items can have for those in need.
  • Plan an activity at the celebration to create things that can be donated, such as greeting cards for sick children or artwork for the elderly.
  • Host your party at a location where you can participate in giving and volunteering- the article here talks about a birthday party hosted at a local Humane Society where the guests not only made toys for the animals but were able to give them to the animals during the tour of the facility (talk about a triple dose of giving, volunteering AND learning!)

Easy-peasy, yes?  Yes.  But don’t forget about what we talked about last week in our blog post…start small.  Perhaps this year you only bring up the notion of donations instead of gifts and see how it goes-  your child may need another year or so to warm up to the idea.  As they continue along the path of becoming a For-Purpose Kid, they will inevitably start to understand a bit more about why giving is important and they will also get to experience the joys of giving.  As that happens, don’t be surprised to see a huge heart emerge that is filled with empathy and compassion, one that is enthusiastic and inspired to share what they have (or may receive) with others.

The BIGGEST challenge with all of this, I promise you, will not be with convincing your kids though…it will be convincing the invitees that this is what you (and the child) truly want.  While I’d like to say that we raised some money for one of our favorite charities last weekend at my son’s birthday…almost everyone that came brought a gift.  So, either I need to work on my messaging in next year’s invitation…or I need to start sharing with others why this is so important to me, and the benefit that it will have for my son.

* Buy 1 For-Purpose Kids Toolkit, Get 1 Free.  LIMITED NUMBER AVAILABLE SO ORDER NOW!  Use code BUY1GET1FREE at check-out by May 31, 2017.  Toolkits must be sent to the same address*

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