By Rabbi Yitzie Ross

Question:

Is there a way to help my 12-year-old son who loves to take but refuses to give? He is my third 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 but don’t get 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?

Confused and Frustrated Parents
Woodmere, N.Y.

Answer:

There are a few issues here that need to be addressed.

  1. Why are you buying him things if he’s not thanking you?
  2. How to inculcate hakaras ha’tov in your children.
  3. How to train your children to become givers.

I can’t answer the first question. I must be careful, since a few months ago I responded in a similar manner, and I received over 30 emails accusing me of being insensitive. I’m not trying to be rude; I’m just confused. If you give your child something and he doesn’t say “thank you,” why would you give him something else? Doing so validates the fact that he doesn’t need to thank you. Yet you wrote, “We always buy him things that he wants …”

Perhaps you should stop giving him things until he learns to respond appropriately. This is true with a three-year-old and holds true at any age. However, I will not be discussing hakaras ha’tov in this section, 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 the desire to give. These steps are in no particular order.

  • Lead by Example. When someone comes to your door collecting tzedakah, 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 barbecue-flavored Pringles. Let’s buy her a package.” 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?”
  • 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 giver. The obvious goal is to get him used to giving. Giving to others is a great feeling, and, hopefully, he’ll get hooked.
  • Discuss Giving. These conversations should not be directly focused on him, but rather broached during a family discussion — for example, at the Shabbos table. Tell a story about a gadol who 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.
  • Compliment Him Whenever He Gives. 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?”) No matter how insignificant it seems, 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 more easily for some children than others. Some children pop out of bed in the morning and some need to be prodded multiple times to get up. You might have one child who loves to give, and a different one who 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.

Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a well-known rebbe and parenting adviser. To sign up for the weekly emails visit YidParenting.com. 

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