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WomanOf the Month 11-04:Parenting Expert Susan Newman, PhD

When we give of ourselves, most people feel better about themselves. There###s a dynamic that happens-it###s almost like an adrenaline rush," says WomanOf the Month Susan Newman, parenting expert, author and social psychologist. With Thanksgiving and the holiday season approaching, she discussed ways to help children, in particular, understand the importance of gratitude and giving. There###s a catch, however. "When we get to the holidays and we want children to be grateful, it###s almost too late," she notes. "These are values that are acquired and have to be taught over a lengthy period of time. Because parents are the major role models, it falls to them."

For adults, giving can be as small an event as visiting an aunt who is not well, or it can be as significant as a major volunteering commitment. "It may not be until we###re older that we want to give back," notes Newman. "But if a child has parents who are modeling this behavior over the years, eventually children will ###get it###."

Here are some ways parents can teach children the value of giving, suggests Newman:

  • If you don###t say thank you, your children won###t. Always let them hear you say thank you. Make a production of it. Write a card and have them seal the envelope. Even when it seems it###s not getting through to them, it will with time. During certain developmental stages, such as the toddler and teen years, there is so much physical and psychic energy that it seems they are not paying attention. They really are; it###s just not being manifested.

  • Volunteer. If you###re not a volunteer yourself, you can###t expect children to do it. They can start as early as age three. For example, every year you can have them sort through their toys and see what they are willing to part with. Have them accompany you when you deliver the toys. Follow the same process for collecting items for the homeless and others. If you are volunteering for an organization that they can###t participate in, talk about it and let them know what you###ve done and how you###ve helped. Express the value in giving back, and talk about being happy and appreciative of what you have.

  • Buy holiday cards from an organization that is a charity or where the money goes to cancer research or some other cause. Talk about it with your child.

  • Adopt a holiday activity where everybody in the family says or writes down what they are grateful for. Keep it in the same notebook and pass it around every year. The youngest child may say she or he is grateful for chocolate cake, but you will teach them the concept, and it could be a good family tradition.

  • Make a bedtime ritual of asking the child to tell two or three things he or she is thankful for today. Parents can go first. The child may say he or she is thankful for a dog or cat or teddy bear. The parent may say, I###m thankful for your help in clearing the table or for a teacher giving you help. The idea is to show children how to get beyond themselves by recognizing others.

Newman is a native of New Jersey and majored in psychology and art history at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. She earned her PhD in social psychology/human development from the Fielding Institute in Santa Barbara, California. She has published many articles and more than 12 non-fiction books, among them Little Things Long Remembered-Making Children Feel Special Everyday. She also teaches at Rutgers University. For more information about Newman, her books and other work, go to http://www.susannewmanphd.com. Contact her at snewman9@optonline.net .