Since my first child was born I’ve struggled with the idea of how to teach a kid gratitude and empathy. How do you instill a grateful heart in children who have everything they need and don’t know what it means to go without? I don’t remotely have the answer to that question, but I moved one step closer today, showing it to my oldest son, Ezra.
For the past three years I’ve participated in Operation Christmas Child, an outreach program through Samaritan’s Purse. It’s really simple: you pack a “shoebox” (I buy 6 quart plastic boxes at the store) with toys, toiletries, and school supplies for a child from an underprivileged country. You decide ahead of time what age group you’re buying for so you can get age appropriate items. When Ezra was three I took him shopping with me, carefully explaining that we were purchasing Christmas gifts for another child. He could not have cared less. So, when he was four I went shopping on my own. This year he’s five, and I hoped he was old enough to understand what we were doing. My objective: bless a couple of children while blessing my own son with a greater awareness of the needs of others.
This morning I busted out our globe and had Ezra point out where we lived. Then I pointed out several countries where shoeboxes are distributed. “In these countries there are children who don’t have what you have, like toys and clothes and coloring books. Many of them won’t even receive Christmas gifts,” I explained. “Would you like to go to the store and pick out some gifts for a couple of kids?” I was holding my breath at that question. It’s entirely possible he could have just said he’d rather watch The Lion Guard. Instead, he responded positively and wanted to go to the store right away.
It may not seem like a big thing, but it’s something. It’s a step forward in teaching gratitude and empathy. I love that my son was eager to go pick out gifts for someone else. I love that he was able to think of someone else’s needs. When we arrived at Target he headed straight for the toy aisle. I was a little nervous that this was going to turn into an “I want this” trip, but I underestimated the little critter. He started by picking out his two favorite Matchbox cars, one for each box. (I decided we would shop for two boys ages 5-9 since that is in Ezra’s wheelhouse.) Then he picked out two stuffed dinosaurs, one blue and one green. I asked him what else little boys need, and he came back with “crayons.” So we headed over to the arts and crafts aisle and picked out some crayons and a coloring book for each boy. I kind of lost him when we moved onto the toiletry portion of the box, but he did make a valiant effort to locate individually packaged bars of soap!
When we got home I asked him to help me pack the boxes and he got right to work sorting items and putting one of each thing in the boxes. I helped him figure out how to make it all fit, but he did the packing. I really wanted him to be as hands-on as possible to take ownership of the project.
It’s a fine line between helping someone, and reveling in your own privilege when you participate in a charitable activity. The truth is, it makes us feel good about ourselves to help when the focus really should be on the people you’re helping. My goal today was to have Ezra focus on meeting a need with a pure heart, and I hope that’s what happened.
Here are a couple of links if you think you might want to pack a shoebox, too:
Here is what went in our boxes:
- Tee shirt
- Crayons crayons
- Coloring book
- Matchbox car
- Two pack of playdoh
- Stuffed animal (dinosaur)
- Koosh ball
Each box of items cost me approximately $38. Next year I’m going to incorporate having Ezra pay for part of the gift with his piggyback money. Baby steps!