Rebbetzin Heller is Helping Parents in Teaching Children To Be Givers

2 08 2010

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur (Torah class) by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

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By nature, children do not enjoy giving. Babies know nothing about giving and everything about taking.  This is because very young children only hear their animal souls. You, as the parent must awaken within them another more elevated voice.

We live in a materialistic society where giving is undervalued. What counts is physical reality. In the material sense, the more you give the less you have while in the spiritual sense, the more you give, the more you are. Therefore, the first step in educating your child to give is to question your own attitude towards giving. Do a bit of introspection. How do you feel when someone asks you for a favor? What is your immediate reaction when someone asks you for a significant loan? If your attitude about giving is negative, don’t be hard on yourself. It’s normal not to want to give because we live in a very materialistic society. However, be aware that the language of the soul is giving; and the language of the body is taking.

By allowing yourself to be a taker, you commit yourself to your body. The body is journeying towards death which is why it yearns for repose. It’s root is death. Conversely, the soul is eternal and desires to give and to do for others. If you have your own inner crisis about giving, you will need to resolve it first before attempting to resolve your children’s’ crisis.

Ask yourself initially, “How can I come to enjoy giving?” There are various ways to reach this level. First, learn to identify with the recipient. Use imagery to cross a bridge that may be hard to cross otherwise. Suppose someone asks you for money to help pay for therapy. Picture someone who isn’t coping with life and imagine what will happen if you pay for therapy. Picture the person back on his feet, getting married, starting a family, and holding down a steady job. The more you see yourself in the recipient’s shoes, the more you awaken empathy within yourself for others, the more you’ll love giving.

Secondly, learn how to give with perfection. There’s a huge difference between making a complicated cake for a bar mitzva and handing over a box of store bought cookies. The cake signifies hours of effort and perfection and you can identify your higher soul in the gift.

A child’s desire to take and not give is much stronger than an adult’s. With very young children don’t expect much. They aren’t mentally developed enough to understand spiritual pleasure. Therefore, laying down the law is the way to go. You have to say, “We share here. Look at the clock. You get five minutes and he gets five minutes.”

Starting at about the age of five, it is possible to build empathetic understanding. This can be accomplished through storytelling. Have the hero stem from a different culture or use animal characters. This helps take pressure off the child. Your goal in storytelling is to have the child empathize with a hero who gives something to someone in need after which they both end up feeling good. You can use this basic storyline in endless variations for young children. The hero can either give honor, clothing, help with homework or assistance with understanding a new language. It is essential that the hero be a winner and not a loser, otherwise the child will not connect with the story. Your aim should be to teach them the joy of giving.

Give your child a sum of money and teach him about maaser. Initially, he won’t want to give the money to tzedaka.  Although he didn’t work  for it and does not as yet have a clear picture of what money can buy, he will still be loathe to give anything of his away. Try to open his heart by saving some of the Vaad Harabbanim booklets and reading him the stories.  Tell him how he can make a difference by donating his money. Once he’s experienced the pleasure of giving, you can move up a notch. Take your child to Geulah or the Kotel where collectors are wont to be found. Give him money to drop into a beggar’s cup. Then say, “Look what a mitzva you’ve done, now this woman can go home and buy a cake for Shabbat.”

Once you’ve passed these steps, you can then introduce the concept of giving as a part of the child’s personal life. A good place to begin is at home.  Tell your child, “The baby was so happy when you brought her a cookie,” instead of, “You were so good, you brought the baby a cookie.” This creates empathy.

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