December 18, 2009

Life Lessons: Teaching A Child To Give

The first family had already shopped by the time we arrived, which bummed out Zach. He wanted to help. So Zach’s biggest job became taking the kids over to Penny the Pony for a ride – He seemed partially satisfied because I had tasked him with keeping the pennies before we arrived at the store. His doing that made things easier on everyone involved with the shopping. The children thanked and hugged us when they left and I told Zach how proud I was because he helped keep the children busy while we rang up their items.

Shopping with our second family was a more “active” challenge. There were 4 children to shop for, plus I brought both Zach and Gabby. I suppose I may have had a moment of insanity to think bringing both of my children to shop for 4 others was a good idea, however that insanity was quickly dismissed. Zach went off to help the oldest child, a 10 year old who happily accepted Zach’s shopping assistance. Apparently it was Zach’s job to tell the other boy “Awesome” every time the boy picked something out. The young man was very appreciative and was amazed at what he was able to buy. I was thankful though that the Meijer was mostly empty because I spent the next two hours chasing 4 children under the age of 7 around as the mother choose appropriate clothing - We definitely got the entire experience that night and I so hoped the kids understood what was happening. I certainly needed a hot bubble-bath and a glass of wine!

Our third and final family shopping for W
I have been struggling to find a way to teach my children to giving, helpful members of society – It seems all they do is say “I want”. It’s hard to blame them though with the stores, catalogs and television commercials are filled with things we “need” to have. Most of all thought I want them to learn to understand that there are many families that don’t have the blessings that we have been gifted with; we’re lucky to have friends and family that helped when things got tight. For my children, their lives and comforts have been mostly unchanged even when we were laid off.

I know it’s a big task, teaching these lessons. My children are still very young, but I was determined to find something to help teach them even if it’s in the most rudimentary way. I figured they needed to “experience” these lessons themselves, because often the best messages are learned through doing. In the past month or so, I was able to open these doors walk through them hand-in-hand with my children.

My first teaching opportunity was given as we were able to participate as “volunteer shoppers” for the Warm the Children Program. Actually we were able to assist three families with their shopping!

So how does participating in that program help teach my children empathy for those in need? Primarily because my children can spend time helping children their own age to purchase clothing items they may otherwise have to do without. Luckily all three of our families had children of similar ages!

The program covers $90 per child for the families to purchase coats, boots, hats, mittens, underwear, socks or other necessary clothing items for the winter. As volunteer shoppers, we meet each of the families at a local Meijer, possibly helping them pick out items. The shopper helps keep tabs on how much money is remaining and also assists with the check-out process and necessary paperwork. We really didn’t “do” a lot, but I knew that we’d be experiencing the joy these children feel, and I was hoping that my children, especially my oldest, would understand what we were doing for these families.

arm the Children was a much quieter experience. During the trip I asked Gabby if she knew what we were doing and she replied “Yup, we’re buying clothes for kids who don’t have money.” Check, she got it!

The second teaching opportunity arrived as I signed up to ring the bell for the Salvation Army. I didn’t expect the children to spend an entire two-hour block ringing with me, but thought if it wasn’t too cold maybe they would. The experience went mostly as expected, each child taking the opportunity to ring or sing. Gabby actually decided to recite “Either ring or sing” which I thought was pretty brilliant for a 3 ½ year-old!

We rang the bells outside our local Ypsilanti Township Kroger store twice. What I hadn’t anticipated though, was having my children running in and out of the automatic doors to climb onto the Pooh ride-on or gaze adoringly at the wall of gumballs, candy and trinkets. They so wanted money to ride on Pooh or to get something from the machines. I however did not have the change to give them, and even if I did, the money would have been used to illustrate my point by donating it into the kettle! The children certainly enjoyed putting money into the red kettle though, as passers by handed them the money to add –
Believe me they got many donations by being there ringing, after all who could resist two pink-cheeked cherubic faces ringing the bell for donations?

On our second night of ringing, the window washers appeared at Kroger. My immediate thought was “Great they are going to hate my two for adding gunk and grime back to the windows once they are finished.” I was surprised (and slightly annoyed) that my son asked them if he could “help” them. He was supposed to be ringing the bells, and I didn’t want him bugging those individuals working. At the same time he was offering to help someone else and for some odd reason they accepted his offer. The amazing thing happened as they “paid him” fifty-cents for helping clean the windows. I fully expected him to walk over to the gumball machines or to “feed” Pooh, instead he walked over to the red kettle and motioned that he was going to put his hard-earned money into it. I told him he didn’t have to and he replied that he “wanted to so that he could help someone else.”

At that moment I was the proudest mother around. You couldn’t have wiped the grin from my face if you tried!

Photo: Gabriella Mayrend ringing the bell for the Salvation Army, December 2009


  1. Hi Tammy,

    I work with The Salvation Army of Washtenaw County, and we truly appreciate you and your children bell ringing to support our Red Kettle Campaign. The kids who bell ring always seem to have fun, and it's great to teach them the importance of helping others. Thanks for sharing your experience on your blog!

    ~ Nikki

  2. Thanks Nikki - they tend to get a great number of donations too... :) Mostly though, they learn the importance of helping others!