10 ways to encourage the joy of giving in your child all year long

Are the gifts for your child piling up this holiday season? Are you wondering if you’ve gone a little overboard? It’s easy to do! But consider adding one more gift to the pile: teaching the importance of the joy of giving. When you encourage the joy of giving in your child, you are giving him a gift that will last a lifetime.

How is encouraging the joy of giving a gift?

Much like an attitude of gratitude, the joy of giving leads to a happier, healthier life. In fact, generosity sets off a series of reactions in your brain that improves mood, reduces stress, boosts overall physical health, builds self-esteem, and even helps you live longer!

Giving just feels good.

The act of giving makes us feel good. This simple fact is backed up by decades of research. When we give to others, a part of our brain known as the pleasure circuit is activated. Chemicals, such as dopamine and endorphins, are released. These chemicals cause that warm feeling associated with happiness.

A University of Oregon research team used brain scans (MRI) to study this link between giving and pleasure. The team’s studies have shown that—no matter the amount or circumstances—giving creates pleasure. These chemicals naturally reduce stress levels as well. So it’s no surprise that generosity also reduces stress. When stress is reduced, your overall physical health improves—leading to a longer life span. For example, a 2012 study in the journal Health Psychology showed that older people who volunteer have a lower risk of death than older people who don’t volunteer.

So how do I encourage the joy of giving in my child?

The joy of giving starts with sharing—an important social and emotional skill that children begin to learn when they are toddlers. Sharing is just one of the many social and emotional skills taught in Dilly’s Tree House family engagement system, along with taking turns, showing kindness, and helping others.

To get you started, we’ve listed a few helpful tips on how to encourage the joy of giving in preschoolers—all year long.

10 ways to encourage the joy of giving in your child throughout the year

  1. Model your own joy in giving to others.

Make sure you model your own joy when giving to others. For example, give gifts of your time and energy to family members and friends—in front of your child. But make sure you are truly giving from the heart. If you find yourself reluctantly giving your time and energy, avoid complaining about it. Considering the everyday stresses of life as a parent, this is understandably difficult. But, if you regularly complain about giving, then your child might learn that giving to others causes you to be cranky and tired.

  1. Make gift-giving a daily activity—and a year round one.

Borrow an idea from one of the many social-emotional activities in Dilly’s Tree House! Here’s an idea from one of our parent Play and Learn Guides that was also mentioned in our post on how to teach gratitude:

Step 1: Let your child decorate a wide-mouthed jar, plastic container, or cardboard box to be a gift ideas jar. She can decorate it with construction paper, paint, markers, or crayons, or even fabric.

Step 2: Help your child brainstorm some ideas for daily gifts on strips of paper and add them to the jar. Daily gifts include hugs, kisses, smiles, jokes, nice notes, small acts of kindness, and drawings.

Step 3: Help your child write the ideas on strips of paper and add them to the jar.

Step 4: Each day, your child chooses a gift idea from the jar and surprises a family member or friend.

  1. Don’t keep all the joy to yourself!

Include your child when shopping for gifts. Yes, we know this can be difficult to do—especially during the craziness of holiday shopping! But try to avoid choosing gifts for family members or friends on your child’s behalf—without her input or help. By enlisting her help in gift giving, you are sharing the joy of giving with her.

You can follow this rule throughout the year—for birthday parties, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and family birthdays. Here are some tips for shopping for gifts with your preschooler:

  • Choose just one store where you can easily take your preschooler to shop. Don’t make it a marathon multi-store trip.
  • Plan your trip at a time when the store might not be so chaotic or crowded.
  • Guide her to think of things that might make the family member, friend, or teacher happy.

Or, let your child create her own, personalized gifts instead! She can make and decorate pottery pieces (see if your community has a “make-and-take” pottery place), paintings, or drawings. She can even decorate photo frames and add photos of herself.

  1. Extend your giving circle to neighbors or friends.

Discuss a neighbor or friend who might need a little encouragement or help. Enlist your child’s help to take them a simple gift. An encouraging gift can be as easy as some freshly clipped evergreen branches. Or it can be a plate of cookies that you’ve baked together. If you have leftovers from a meal, take them to an older neighbor who might appreciate a meal for one or two people.

  1. Extend your giving circle to community helpers and workers.

Turn gift giving into a social studies lesson by giving back to community helpers and workers. Community helpers can include anyone you see on a regular basis who works in service to others. Local community helpers include firefighters, police officers, postal workers, sanitation workers, crosswalk guards, doctors, dentists, nurses, veterinarians, food service industry workers, and store clerks. Here’s what you can do:

  • Guide your child to recognize community helpers and how they serve others. For example, if you see firefighters speeding to a fire, then discuss what they do and why.
  • Have your child draw a picture or write or dictate a letter to a community worker. Then, help him deliver it.
  • With your child, bake and take cookies to local community workers, such as firefighters or police officers.
  • Let your child retrieve the mail from the mail slot or mailbox. Then, discuss the job of the postal worker and how he or she serves others by delivering the mail. Invite your child to draw a picture or write a letter to your postal worker. Make sure to address it to your postal worker. Then, let her deliver the note to the mailbox or mail slot.
  • If your child attends school, enlist his help in getting or making a small gift for his teacher. First, ask him what his teacher likes most. This might be a certain coffee shop or bookstore, or it might just be hugs and smiles from students. Then, help your child choose a gift (or make one) related to the teacher’s favorite thing.


  1. Find a giving project and enlist your child’s help.

During the holidays, opportunities for giving to others are endless. Operation Christmas Child and The Salvation Army Angel Tree are two projects you can enlist your child’s help with. But don’t stop there! Consider what your child loves the most, and choose a project that he can help you with year-round. For example, he might enjoy creating art. Enlist his help in creating cards for people at a local assisted living facility. Or, she might love animals. Take her to donate pet supplies at the local animal shelter (although you might end up taking one home). Let her pick out some animals to send to people in other countries through Heifer International (although you might not want to buy a water buffalo just yet!).

  1. Clean out the closets together.

Help your child choose old clothes or other items to take to local service organizations. This can turn into a fun sorting game, too—getting in some early math skills. Sort clothes for different genders or sizes (“big” clothes and “little clothes”). Make sure your child goes with you to deliver the clothes to the organization.

  1. Help your child recognize the feeling that gift giving creates.

When giving gifts to others—even small ones—be sure and discuss how it makes you feel. Connect the joy and happiness you feel to the action of giving. Then, help her name this feeling when she gives to others. For example, you might say, “Ms. Jodene was so happy to get a hug from you, wasn’t she? She had a big smile on her face. And you had a smile on your face too! How did you feel when you gave Ms. Jodene a hug?”

  1. Role-play giving gifts to others and showing joy in giving.

Young children learn through play with a purpose. Use dolls, action figures, or even puppets like the ones in Dilly’s Tree House to role-play different gift-giving scenarios. For example, role-play giving a gift to a friend. Or role-play giving a gift to a community helper.

  1. Read books that illustrate the joy of giving.

Read your child books that feature characters experiencing the joy of sharing and giving to others. Read him books that lead to discussions about giving to others. Here are some recommendations:

Oliver—who only has one of everything in his house—learns that sharing means more friends.

In this classic book, a tree gives everything it has to a boy.

The Mine-O-Saur is always taking things away from his friends at school. Then he realizes that he doesn’t have any friends left.

George the giant ends up helping all the animals in his town—by giving away his new clothes.

This book is full of many ideas for giving to others, and they’re for all ages.


Do you have some additional tips to encourage the joy of giving in preschoolers? If so, please share them in the Comments section below. And, don’t forget to share any gifts your child gives to others on our Facebook page!


Susan Light
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Susan Light is a mom, a grandmother, a journalist, and an educational expert. She is a senior editor at Rainbow Educational Concepts, and she blogs regularly for Dilly’s Tree House. Susan focuses on research-based topics for parents of preschoolers and ways to help young children get ready for kindergarten.

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