You can’t force the act of giving with kids

By 8:20 a.m. today I had already helped my kids paint (aka make a giant mess) and cover the entire table with markers, colored pencils and paper (aka another mess). On their own, they littered the house with their toys. Oh yes, it was that kind of morning — and not the kind where I had captured their minds and attention, but the kind where we got nothing accomplished except turn the house upside down.

Mind you, all of this happened by 8:20 a.m.

Thereafter, to salvage the morning, I thought it a good idea to make a birthday card for my brother and insert some of their art. You know, to center us all on a specific project instead of the free-for-all that had just occurred.

My daughter jumped on board and started taking markers to Strawberry Shortcake’s face in a coloring book while my son begrudgingly complied. He started coloring a picture of two deer with colored pencils, but I could tell his heart wasn’t in it. I started off on a tirade about giving to others and how much my brother would like this card. I rattled on and on about all the reasons why he should continue. It didn’t work and he got annoyed. Exasperated I told him to take a break, find something else to do and try coming back to it later. You can’t force the act of giving with kids.

My son slunk away and soon my daughter lost interest. There I stood surrounded by art supplies in my bathrobe in the middle of a messy house. Annoyed I went to get dressed, brush my hair, and put make-up on. I’ll show them who’s Queen, I thought.

Eventually I got them dressed and they somewhat settled into a game of “picnic in the hotel” as I shuffled around trying to clean up messes and make a grocery list. My son eventually came back to his painting and finished his work – a lovely sun and sky. That counts for something, I thought as I wiped blue paint off of his chair.

They went back to their play and I started writing in a card of a different accord. I realized I wanted to seal it with a sticker, so I ran downstairs to look through our sticker collection. Just as I was about to run back upstairs my son suddenly appeared before me. I handed him a pack of Cars stickers and ushered him back upstairs with me.

Of course my daughter immediately wanted some of his stickers. I looked over and saw that there was at least four sheets. But would he give her one? Of course not. He who is suddenly not the giving type, shield them with his arms and chest. I went over and tried to talk to him through gritted teeth. Don’t yell, don’t yell, I chanted to myself. He still wasn’t having it, so I calmly told him I wanted him to think of one word: SELFISH. I explained what I meant and told him we would talk more about it later. He nongenuinely handed my daughter a pack of stickers before he began to cry.

I left the room. I made my point and he knew it. I needed to cool off and let him feel bad about himself for a minute.

By the time I re-entered the kitchen they were ready for the next thing. My daughter had a doctor’s kit in hand and told me I was sick. I complied and laid down on the couch so she could “treat” me. My son lurked in the outskirts of the room pretending he was not interested I could tell he wanted to play, but he was still moping. At least the tears were gone.

My daughter pretended to give me shots, cut off my legs, and told me her name was Dr. Harry. I started cracking up, as did my ungiving son. Dr. Harry drew him into the game and his mood changed. We were all feeling better, but then I tried to leave the game because I don’t like playing with my kids, but they followed me. Of course. I’m like the Pied Piper in our house.

I couldn’t decide if it was time we leave the house for the grocery store or I punish them divert their attention by making them watch TV while I sit in my office to talk trash about them on the Internet. But before I could decide, my son asked if we could listen to the “Cotton Eyed Joe” song.


We had a hoe-down and were feeling good again. Nonetheless I decided to let them watch a show before we go to the grocery store. It just now occurred to me that we haven’t left the house in over two days. Yeah… so… it’s definitely time we go see what the rest of the world is up to today.

Before I go, the lessons I’ve learned are:

  1. I have to teach my kids about giving by modeling giving myself. I am going to work on this until they get it. I know they will come around.
  2. I will definitely be having that whole selfish conversation with my son later. Tomorrow I will give him one more opportunity to make a picture for my brother or ask him if he has any other ideas. But if he still doesn’t want to do anything, I will allow it to happen and make him watch me seal up the card, with only a picture from my daughter, and see how that makes him feel.
  3. Nothing diffuses a situation like Dr. Harry and the Cotton Eyed Joe.




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