Helping Young Children GIVE

By Lisa Samick

During this holiday season, there can be a lot of “I want” and “I got.” But, this is the perfect time to also engage with your child in why and how to give; AND to make that conversation and experience meaningful. “You are not obligated to compete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” – Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers)

Research indicates that young children are particularly receptive to these messages of charity, kindness and giving; they have a deeply rooted instinct to share and to help others. Judaism sets up beautifully the concept of “tikkun olam,” and we saw this really come to life in the ECLC a few weeks ago.

A colleague of mine reached out to me in a panic. She works with an organization that provides holiday gifts to school children in Liberia (one of the poorest countries in the world) and a partner had pulled out at the last minute – could the families at the ECLC provide holiday gifts for 50 children who otherwise would not have anything to celebrate the holiday with – AND get it done in 48 hours to make their shipment deadline.

I sent an email to our parents – and within 45 minutes, ALL 50 children were spoken for – and I had parents asking if we could do more.

We were given red plastic bags – slightly bigger than a gallon sized Ziploc, one for each child. The school suggested that we include notebooks, pencils, toothbrushes and socks – and then anything else we thought a child of that age might like. What came back was nothing short of miraculous. Bags overflowing with toiletries, clothing, toys and personalized drawings and letters from our ECLC students to the students of the African Dream Academy. We had to tape the bags closed and still we had toys and art supplies left over that we were able to donate to another charity.

In each ECLC classroom, students who participated shared what they had chosen and packed up for “their friend”. “I hope Angel likes what I chose for him!”

“Do you think Tartus might write me back? I wonder what his house looks like” “I got ZayZay a present.”

Our NYC preschoolers were feeling connected to children thousands of miles away, who they had never met. But, they understood need and caring – and they wanted to give. By the time young children turn three, they start to understand that other people have an inner life – feelings that can be happy or sad, scared or secure. Actual empathy is still a few years away, their brains are not quite developed yet to be able to take another person’s perspective, but these experiences are the foundational layers of adults who care about the world and about others. We will continue to look for meaningful and age-appropriate experiences for our ECLC students. But the opportunity for conversation and example setting is everywhere.

We live in a city, unfortunately, where homelessness and hunger are all around us. Talk to your child about how lucky we are that we have a safe home and food to eat, but not everyone has that. Make sandwiches to hand out or donate food to a can drive, if you’re not comfortable approaching people directly. “Adopt” a family over the holidays through the USPS Operation Santa program or ask a local hospital or shelter what they might need. Young children are concrete thinkers, but they understand “stuff.” We have stuff, we want stuff, we give stuff. Start incorporating the giving early and you will set them up on a lifetime of tikkun olam, of healing the world.

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