Thinking of others is not something that comes natural to us. We tend to be pretty self-focused. This is proven true by examining little ones. They have to learn empathy. They have to learn to relate to others with kindness and self-lessness. And they have to be taught to be caring.
I can think of almost no other place where this self-focus can be seen in kids than when it comes time to give a gift.
You know the drill:
You walk into Target and you lay out the game plan for your shopping trip: purchase a gift for Johnnny’s birthday.
Immediately upon entering the toy aisle, your little one starts shopping. But not for Johnny.
Suddenly she finds toys she NEEDS! RIGHT NOW!
She forgets the purpose of the shopping trip. So she needs a little refocus.
Once you get her all refocused on the purpose of the trip to Target, she starts to have her own ideas for what Johnny might want. And what Johnny might want looks eerily like what she might want. I assure you, sweet girl, that Johnny does not want a pretty princess dress for his birthday.
Somewhere along the way (it has happened at 5 for our girl), the switch flips and kids start thinking of what others may like. They step outside themselves and put themselves in a friends’ or family member’s shoes and come up with something they would like.
And the day that switch flips is SO exciting.
The other day, we were in Target shopping for a birthday party for a girl friend of our kids. She is closest in age to my 5-year-old.
Pre-5-year-old version of my girl (G) would have told me exactly what this girl would have liked: MASHERS!
Backstory: She has tried to purchase Mashers for every.single.person. in her life for the past two years, for every occasion. In case you are wondering, they are the perfect gift – according to 3 and 4 year old girls who like to take toys apart and are slightly obsessed with superheroes.
Back to this shopping trip. I told G that we were going to go to a birthday party for our friend and we needed to pick a gift for her. I prepared myself and even started to open my mouth to tell her, once again, “Not everyone likes Mashers.” She knocked me out by saying, “Oh, then we should get her something really pretty.”
And what was amazing about this statement is it was absolutely right. This girl is a girly girl. She does like pretty things!
I stopped to think about why the switch flipped when it did and a series of conversations came flooding back to me. Conversations we have had over the past few years directed at teaching her to think about others. Teaching her that every one is different. That every one has something they like. We can discover what people like by thinking about what they spend time doing. And that Mama likes coffee (seriously, we have this conversation often).
So, we started looking for “something really pretty.”
And we found it almost immediately!
We still looked around the store for a little while because, you never know what else you might find. But interestingly enough, there were no requests to purchase something for herself. Just a few times we heard, “Can I get this for my birthday?”
We ended up purchasing the first thing we found.
A Step further
As we prepared to go to the party, I needed an activity that would keep the girls from asking, over and over, when we were going to leave for the party. And I knew we needed to wrap the present we purchased. So, I came up with a quick activity for the girls to do. We made wrapping paper for her present using alphabet stamps, ink, and butcher paper. It turned out really cute.
The girls got to work on identifying alphabet letters. Then G worked on creating a Happy Birthday message on the package for the girl, by using the letter stamps.
When we got to the party, G and W (our almost 4 year-old) could NOT wait for time to open presents. I have never seen anything like it! They were so intent on:
- Not spoiling the surprise for the birthday girl, and
- Making sure that she loved it!
My mama heart swelled as they enthusiastically told their friend, “Happy Birthday!” And they ran around happily throughout the party – with nary a “gimme” in sight!
Now this birthday party thing is really starting to get fun!
Did you notice a switch in your kids where they started to think of others? At what age did you see it?