To all you parents, does this sound familiar?
You’re strolling through the aisles at Target and somehow get talked into making a detour down the toy aisle. Despite the fact that you’ve made it clear no one is getting a toy, the inevitable happens;
And so begins the chant: Can I have this? Can I have that? Attempting to negotiate, your child claims, “I’ll never ask for anything again.” When you stand your ground and say “no,” you’re met with eye rolls, sulking or perhaps even a tantrum.
If you’re like me, you’ve asked yourself, “Don’t they know how lucky they are?” Maybe you have even uttered the “s” word— spoiled— when your child exhibits this behavior, but the truth is, all kids do it.
I doubt I’m alone in my desire to counter these normal child behaviors with a little bit of perspective; to teach my children about the importance of empathy, community and generosity. That is why I was so thrilled to host the first Celebrate United party for my son Miles’ ninth birthday. It was an opportunity to infuse the spirit of giving into the celebration for him.
Before this alternative birthday celebration, my method for addressing my children’s desire for excess was to preach at them, telling them how good they have it compared to many others in the world. A parental classic. However, preaching, while well intentioned, does little more than make kids feel guilty, at least in my experience. Guilt doesn’t translate into increased awareness or empathy for others’ life circumstances.
When I approached my son about having a Celebrate United party, I was not sure how he would respond. My son has a big heart, but he’s also a 9-year-old kid. Birthdays are BIG. I reminded Miles about the homeless people we often see along the freeway, those to whom he usually insists we give our spare change. I asked if he’d be willing to use his birthday to raise money for United Way to help those people. I told him he could also feed the hungry and help other kids get a good education. He was intrigued, but had one question: “Would I still get a gift?” Once I explained that we would ask his guests to give $5 to put toward his gift and $5 to United Way to help others, he was on board.
I sent out flyers for Miles’ party, clearly explaining the request for his gift and donation. Unsure what other parents would think, I hoped they would see it for what it was: a way to get our kids involved in giving and an easy alternative to shopping for a birthday gift. Parents responded positively and commented on how great it was to see something that made donating easy while also teaching their kids about the importance of giving back. Some families unable to attend the party sent Miles a card containing their gift for him and a donation.
The day of the party, kids used tickets to play carnival games and win prizes. Each game station featured a collection can labeled with a specific area of United Way’s work to allow the kids to choose where they put their donation. Right before cake, I presented Miles with a “Live United” T-shirt and thanked him and the guests for their United Way contributions to help our community. After the guests left, Miles and I counted the donations and talked about how much every bit counts. Miles felt good about his day and wanted to know when we could do it again.
The day provided an opportunity for learning and giving, though most importantly, it was Miles’ “Ninja Birthday Party.”
Want to infuse giving into your child’s next birthday party?