Advertising
Advertising

Teaching Kids Charity and Clarity with Pre-Christmas Cleaning

Teaching Kids Charity and Clarity with Pre-Christmas Cleaning
Teaching Charity and Clarity

Today is “Black Friday”, the busiest shopping day of the year in the US and the official start of the Christmas buying season. If you have kids, that most likely means a new crop of the latest toys and video games.

The wholesale (maybe I should say “retail”) celebration of consumerism makes a lot of people anxious, with good reason. What kind of values are we modeling for our children when we embrace consumption so greedily during the Christmas season?

Advertising

And yet, children outgrow toys. Their tastes change, their abilities change, and what was appropriate last year has little to offer them next year. Unless we’re ready to embrace a toy-free childhood for our kids, I think we have to accept the yearly churn of toys, and Christmas is as good a time as any to do the turn-over.

But we do not have to accept the blind consumerism that often comes along with it. Christmastime offers an opportunity to teach children important lessons about consumption, by instituting a yearly ritual that starts with cleaning up their room.

Advertising

The idea is simple: set aside a day this weekend or next, as the Christmas season pitches into full gear, to work with your children on cleaning their rooms. This isn’t a normal room-cleaning, though. Explain to them that while they are dreaming of new toys for Christmas, there are lots of kids whose families can’t afford to give their children new toys, and that those children would be happy to have some of your kids’ toys to play with.

Set out two boxes, one for trash and one for charity, and sort their old toys into them. As you pick up each toy in their room, ask them whether they think they will still play with it next year. Then ask whether another child might enjoy it more than they would. If they aren’t playing with it anymore, or if they can bear to part with it, it goes in one of the two boxes.

Advertising

Which box is for you and our child to decide. If you have young children, this is an opportunity to teach them something of the quality of things — what it means for something to be working or not working, whole or broken. You might also be able to make a point about taking care of their things — if a toy is something they would still play with if it wasn’t broken, talk about how they might have protected it better.

Broken toys go in the trash box, and whole toys go in the charity box. You might have to second-guess a few of your children’s decisions, but for the most part, you should follow their lead. If you take too much of the decision-making responsibility out of their hands, they will start to see giving as a kind of punishment, which is obviously not the goal.

Advertising

For each toy they choose to keep, ask them where they think it should be kept in their room. Help them decide on a realistic strategy for organizing their stuff (and keeping it organized) — even if the neatness doesn’t last, the lessons of categorizing and organizing will.

There are a number of benefits to this beyond just getting their rooms clean in time for the arrival of Santa’s deliveries. Making this kind of clean-sweep teaches:

  • Organization: Kids tend to have short attention spans and aren’t mentally equipped to always consider the consequences of their actions, so it might be too much to ask that they keep things organized, but they still have to be taught how to organize if they’re ever going to learn. Getting them to categorize their toys — “keep”, “give”, “throw out” — helps them develop the mental capacities to understand why things have places in which they belong.
  • Charity: Teaching children to take responsibility for giving also helps teach them to take responsibility for others and to recognize their own relative privilege.
  • Empathy: Children — heck, many adults, too — have a hard time imagining the way that their lives differ from other people’s lives. Getting them to imagine a life without their favorite toys, or a life without a gift-bedecked Christmas tree, helps them learn to put themselves in someone else’s shoes — an important lesson for almost every aspect of their later lives.
  • Contemplation: Getting into the habit of annually reviewing one’s possessions and their meaning helps counteract the raw consumerism that surrounds us at Christmastime. It teaches children to look at themselves and their lives — again, an important lesson for a balanced adulthood.
  • Counter-consumerism: I’m not preaching anti-consumerism, here — it’s pretty much inevitable that our children’s lives will be shaped by consumerism. But we can teach them to create a critical and reflective relationship with their own consumption, so that they learn to build identities that are not determined by what they buy. Thinking about the relationship between need and possession — e.g. “Do I want this toy because I actually play with it or just because it’s mine?” — can help put them on that path.

After filling up your charity box (or boxes), load them in the car and take them to a local charity with your children. You might have todo a little research to decide where to give your toys — things that are new and in their packages can go to Toys for Tots, toys that are not new but are still in good shape can go to a local shelter, religious organization, or other relief organization. Thrift stores like Goodwill and Salvation Army sell toys to raise money for their other activities, which means that you cannot be sure a needy child will benefit from your children’s charity, but if you can’t find anything else locally, they are a fine last alternative.

With an afternoon’s work — and family togetherness, which is nothing to sneeze at! — you can teach some valuable lessons to your children and help out someone else’s children at the same time. And, if nothing else, you’ll have cleared up some space in their rooms for the new arrivals come Christmas.

More by this author

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain) How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works) Building Relationships: 11 Rules for Self-Promotion How to Become an Expert (And Spot out One Nearby)

Trending in Featured

1 The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain) 2 How to Stay Motivated and Reach Your Big Goals in Life 3 How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques 4 How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators 5 50 Businesses You Can Start In Your Spare Time

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

Advertising

Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

Advertising

One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

Advertising

But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

Advertising

It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

More About Goals Setting

Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

Read Next