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Dr. Gwenn Schurgin O'Keeffe: Teaching kids to give begins with you

Dr. Gwenn Schurgin O'Keeffe

We have a special tradition this time of year our entire extended family has come to value. We call it "the charity pie" tradition.

Each year we make a small cash donation to an area charity that organizes meals for the homeless during the holidays. The charity works with a bakery, and each donation is met with a pie as a way of saying "thank you for making someone else's holiday a bit sweeter." Serving those pies each Thanksgiving truly does add a special sweetness to the day, knowing that our donation helped a family escape the street for a small while, stay warm and enjoy a holiday meal safely.

We've collected a few other giving traditions as the years have gone by. One of my children's favorites is giving to Toys For Tots. Years ago, we came up with the idea of setting aside one birthday present each that they would donate to a child for the holidays. Just after Thanksgiving, we would go to our local drop box and they would drop it in. With drop boxes out and online donations in, they now save spare change or do extra chores to earn a few dollars to contribute to our annual family donation.

Kids are not born knowing how to give. It has to be taught, and the best way is by example. By being giving to each other within the family and our immediate communities, our children learn how wonderful it is to give and how easy it is to do, regardless of income. They learn that giving can be in time, in gestures and in goods, as well as in dollars. They learn that giving of the heart is often the best way to give and means the most in the long run.

I've seen some creative ways of giving. For example, some birthday parties now are asking people to not bring gifts but consider donations to a charity the child has picked out.

Giving in a family is important. The gift can be homemade, but it is important that children learn to give to siblings and parents, and that they see parents giving to children and one another, even if it is just a thoughtful card or some flowers. It's the gesture we're going for -- the act of giving we want our children to understand.

The holiday season is a wonderful time to give. Find a cause that means something to you and your family, collect some spare change, and make this year the first of many where you create your own new giving traditions.

Gwenn Schurgin O'Keeffe, M.D., F.A.A.P., is a pediatrician and mother of two from Wayland, Mass. A graduate of Tufts University School of Medicine, Dr. O'Keeffe completed her residency training at New England Medical Center. Dr. O'Keeffe is founder and CEO of Pediatrics Now, www.pediatricsnow.com, and can be reached at ideas@pediatricsnow.com.