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Annie Fox, M.Ed., is an internationally respected parenting expert, award-winning author, and a trusted online adviser for tweens and teens.

Going from getting to giving

July 9, 2012

I’ve been tapped as the Bing Summer of Doing expert for the week. Part of the gig involves writing a blog using the word of the day.  Interesting challenge! I’ll be posting today, then again on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Hope to see you often. Now it’s Monday and for no particular reason the word is GIVING. But who needs a reason a give? Not me, and so, I give this to you:

Bing Summer of Doing – Time to give a little

For the first couple of years of life we can’t tell people what we want. That’s why the helpful adults who love us and want to keep us happy, pepper us with questions. These often begin with: “Do you want _______?” Since we’re not yet ready for conversation, the grown-ups fill in the blank:

Do you want to play with this?

Do you want a story?

Do you want to go to the park?

Do you want mint chip or jamoca almond fudge?

Our every wish becomes our parents’ command. That’s why we quickly we learn to say “I want _______.” Being a little kid is such sweet gig!

Then comes the day when parents say ‘NO’ to one of our many requests and our 3-year old brain explodes: “What did you say?! What do you mean it’s too close to dinner? What do you mean it costs too much and you won’t buy it for me? This is outrageous!!” We don’t have all those words, so we reiterate the obvious for stupid Mommy/Daddy: “BUT I WANT IT!!!!!”

The tantrums don’t always work, but they work sometimes and for little humans that’s just enough reinforcement to keep hope and self-centeredness alive.

At around age three, as we become more aware of the power dynamics within our family, we start testing boundaries. That’s the time a parent’s “Do you want ______?” may take on a sinister ring:

Do you want me to take that away from you?

Do you want a time out?

Do you want me to tell Daddy?

Do you want me to give you something to cry about?

This last rhetorical question was surprisingly popular amongst certain parents during the second half of the last century. Hopefully it’s gone the way of the landline, but I’ve got no empirical data either way.

Obviously all those years of “Do you want _______?” congeal in the spongy language and reward centers of our brain where we realize how important our happiness is to Mom and Dad. Because we are all about making it easy for them to please us, we learn to be very specific with our demands about what we want and why we ought to get it… NOW:

“I want __________. (pause) I am too old enough!

“I want __________. (pause) ‘Cause I’m the only one who doesn’t have one!”

“I want a new __________. (pause) ‘Cause my old one sucks!”

“I want you to give me what I want and I want you to leave me alone.” (Double demand… impressive language development!)

And so, for those of us who grew up in comfortable circumstances (yes, I’m talking about you on the laptop) it stands to reason we may need an attitude transplant to get from “I want to get _____.”  to: “I want to give ______.” But we can do it! We have the technology to connect with organizations that are doing awesome work. We have the credit cards (which makes spending less painful). Click. Click.

Why wait until December when we’re hit up for donations from .orgs we’ve never heard of and couldn’t care less about? Like E.A.R. (Earwax Anxiety Relief). Sure hope this isn’t a real one. But I guess it’s too late to check now.

Summer is an excellent time to look around and see where you could spread a little sunshine and some green. Oxfam America, International Rescue Committee, Good Weave, Doctors Without Borders, UNICEF and Kiva are some of my personal favorites. And there are at least a million other absolutely inspirational organizations that are effectively working on solutions to local, national and international challenges. Giving to any of them makes YOU (and any entitled kid you want to inspire) part of the solution. Find out who’s doing what and support their efforts. Start your search here.

Warning: Giving can become habit-forming, but in a healthy way. And think about it, do you really need more stuff or might you be in the market for some good karma points?

PS When I finished writing this on Friday, I saw a web ad for the July 15th AIDS WALK San Francisco. “Great timing! ” I thought. Within 30 minutes I had signed up to be captain of Team BeTheChange and sent out an email asking friends/family to support the fundraising efforts. Our goal is $500. As of this moment, we’ve got $375 in pledges!


UPDATE: Current funds raised- $425! Thank you to those who’ve pitched in. If you haven’t yet, you can support Team BeTheChange until Sunday July 15th.

FINAL UPDATE: Team BeTheChange raised $625 for AIDS Walk SF. Thanks to everyone who supported the cause!


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