Rabbi Ross, is there a way to help my child who loves to take but refuses to give? He’s twelve years old and is my 3rd child with two older sisters and a younger brother. He has no problem when he’s taking anything, but when it comes time to give back, everything is an issue. I’m not even talking about the obvious facts that we feed, clothe and support him. We always buy him things that he wants and get not so much as a “thank you”. If we ask him to help out, he gets all annoyed and says, “I have a life you know!” Can you advise us? – Some very confused and frustrated parents in Woodmere.
Before I reply to your question, I would like to respond to a question that keeps coming up. On the online blog there is a comments section, and many people are wondering why their comments aren’t being approved. Typically, I allow one or two comments, and then I stop allowing anything else. Unfortunately, many of the comments being written are either Lashon Hora, contain inappropriate language, or are simply not nice. In order to approve them, I need to read each one carefully, and it’s extremely time consuming. I am working on a solution, and I apologize for the inconvenience. Keep in mind that if your comment is “short and sweet”, it’s more likely to be approved.
Getting back to your question, there are a few issues that need to be addressed.
Perhaps you should stop giving him things until he learns to respond appropriately. This is true with a three-year-old and holds true with any age. However, I will not be discussing Hakoras Hatov in this response, since it deserves its own discussion. There is definitely a connection between thanking someone and being a giver, but they are still separate Middos. In this response, I’m going to focus on instilling in your children to give. These steps all can work, and they are in no particular order.
The first step is to lead by example. When someone comes to your door collecting Tzedaka, be generous and don’t grumble “Another collector.” Make sure your son sees you being generous and happy for the opportunity to do a Mitzvah. Take him shopping with you and buy things for him and his siblings that they like. You could say, “Your sister really enjoys BBQ Pringles. Let’s buy her one”. Use the word “give” in everyday conversations. For example, “We received an invitation to your friend’s Bar Mitzvah. What should we give to him as a present?”
The second step is to allow him to give. This is taking step one to the next level. Let him give the money to the person that’s collecting. Let him give the Pringles to his sister. Anytime something needs to be given to any of his siblings, or anyone else for that matter, let him be the one. The obvious goal is to get him used to giving. Giving to others is a great feeling, and hopefully he’ll get hooked.
The third step is to discuss giving. These conversations should not be directly focused on him, but rather discussed during a family discussion, for example at the Shabbos table. Tell a story about a Gadol that gave to others or say a Dvar Torah that emphasizes giving. You want to make sure that you’re not dropping subtle hints that are directed at him. If he feels that you’re pushing him, he might resent it.
The fourth step is to compliment him whenever he gives, no matter how insignificant it seems. It could be he’s giving something physical such as sharing one of his toys or books with a sibling. Possibly he’s giving of his time (“Can you watch your brother for a minute?”) In either case, give him a big smile and say, “Thank you so much for being so generous!” Or, “I noticed you gave your sister your cookie, that was very generous of you” etc.
DON’T keep telling him why he should give. That will just irritate him and cause him to resent giving even more. Teaching children how to give must remain a positive lesson.
It’s important to remember that certain Middos come easier to some children than others. Some children pop out of bed in the morning and some need to be prodded multiple times. You might have one child that loves to give, and a different one that refuses to. Make sure never to compare your children with comments like, “Your sister loves to share”, since that doesn’t help at all. You can consider this your (and their) challenge to learn to be a giver.
Wishing you Hatzlacha and a Good Shabbos.
Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a Rebbe and has been working with parents and kids for many years. You can read more about him in the "about" section.