Is this really worth it? I wondered, as I directed my girls -- Drew, 3, and Blair, 5 -- to carry the unwrapped present we were donating to a needy child their preschool had chosen to help last December. Even though I had explained the situation to them a bunch of times ("This family doesn't have a lot of money, so we're giving them a gift for their little girl, because helping people is a good thing to do"), they still didn't seem to get why they couldn't keep the toy. That led to a lot of whining and more than a few tears. Because the toy was cool. It was Christmastime. And they couldn't understand how Santa could even think of skipping over this family's house.
Clearly it would have been easier to avoid the whole scene and slide the gift under the school's tree after the kids were in their classroom. Either way, the girl would have a present to open, and we would cross "good deed" off our holiday to-do list. Done and done.
Then the Good Parent on my right shoulder began whispering in my ear: "This is a teaching moment. If your kids put the gift under the tree themselves, they will start to see what a difference they can make in this world!"
But would this experience really turn them into the compassionate, community-serving, world-doesn't-revolve-around-me women I wanted them to grow up to be? Ellen Sabin, author of The Giving Book, convinced me that it just might. "Once children are exposed to helping other people, it starts to become a habit," she says.