The "Art" of Giving
By James A. Levine, Ed.D.
With the holidays approaching, you can bet your kids are just as concerned about finding the "right" gifts to give to family and friends as you are about getting them something they'll like.
The gifts I've always cherished the most are the ones my kids have made, not bought, gifts that are so unique they could only have come from them. When I look at the shelves in my office or home, those are the gifts I've held onto. My daughter's clay impression of her hand, made when she was in kindergarten, still serves as my favorite paperweight. When I listen to music late at night, tapes made by my jazz-bassist son during high school and college are still among my favorites.
I'm not the only one who has appreciated these hand-made gifts. My wife's favorite coffee mug comes not from Starbucks, but from our daughter's seventh grade pottery class. My mother-in-law's favorite wall hanging was a simple three-color sign our daughter made: "Bubba's Kitchen."
Arts or crafts aren't the only ways for kids to give something uniquely personal. There are lots of ways for kids—no matter how young—to give gifts that come from the heart, not from the store. So if your kids ask for help in giving gifts this holiday season, consider suggesting some of the following:
Book of Gift Coupons
Even a preschooler—with some help from you or mom—can prepare a book of coupons redeemable for something that a parent or grandparent would really like. "In our house, it's the coupon where you get to sleep past eight o'clock on Saturday morning," says Stephanie Oppenheim, co-author of The Oppenheim Toy Portfolio.
Cooking or Baking
With help from an adult, even preschool or elementary school-age kids can prepare a meal or a treat. Sunday brunch specially prepared by my daughter has always been one of my favorite gifts. When he was short on cash in high school, my son realized that a fresh batch of chocolate chip cookies was something he would truly enjoy preparing, and his sister and cousins would truly enjoy receiving.
If your child has shown some interest in gardening, plantings make a terrific gift. All it takes is a milk carton or bottle, some gravel or dirt and water, and a cutting from a flower, a leafy vegetable like arugula, or a tasty vegetable like ginger or cilantro.
If your child has a camera, or is old enough for you to lend your camera, suggest a book of pictures from their world for the grandparents. Even if you subsidize the gift by covering the cost of printing, they'll be receiving something that is truly unique, and that they can both look back on fondly in years to come. Suggest your child make captions for each of the pictures so the grandparents will have a record, when they look back, of what was in his or her mind.
You don't need a pottery wheel and oven at home for your kids to turn out sculptures that will stand the test of time. Buy Fimo or self-hardening clay and let them at it. Or, if they have a bit of money to spend, they can go to a walk-in pottery studio to get clay, glaze, and baking of the finished piece.
What's special about all these gifts, and any others your kids make, is that they come from the heart. When they see you and other family members receive them with joy, when they see that these are gifts you hold on to or remember, you'll be teaching them an important lesson about the gift of giving.
Tip for Parents: When the kids ask "What should we get for Dad/Mom?" suggest that they make something. If they say they don't know what to make, offer to help come up with some ideas. If they are afraid they can't make anything nice enough, offer to help, and be sure to explain that what matters to Mom and Dad is that the gift was made especially for them.
Dr. James Levine, Director of The Fatherhood Project® (www.fatherhoodproject.org) at The Families and Work Institute in New York City, is the author of Working Fathers: New Strategies for Balancing Work and Family.