Dear Doctor, 

We have two boys, both under 10 years old. Christmas has always been a big deal in our house, and the boys really get excited about what they want for presents. The problem is they are unrealistic, looking at electronic gifts that are as much as $500. We want to teach them about giving, but they don’t seem to be interested. They just want their stuff, and it is discouraging. Is this normal? Can we teach them to give?

Mom

Dear Mom,

We do not arrive in this world with a charitable heart. We must be taught.

This issue is not new and has been the subject of many columns over the years. Here are some suggestions.

Model the behavior you wish to encourage. Show them you are giving. Food pantries are desperate this year because of unemployment in the wake of COVID-19. Find one, collect some food and show your boys how one helps others.

Get them involved. For example, when you buy the food, take them along. Encourage them to be of help. Tell them about people who are going hungry.

Reinforce the behavior. When you see or hear them thinking of giving, say something positive about it. Tell them something like, “It is good to hear you care about others.”

Create a narrative. This is like a cognitive massage. “You are a thoughtful and caring person. I know you want to help.” 

By the way, when the $500 item is brought up, there is nothing wrong with saying, “we cannot afford that expensive a gift.” They will gradually acquire the joy of giving. 

Dr. Larry Larsen is an Andover psychologist. If you would like to ask a question, or respond to one, email him at lllrsn@comcast.net. 

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