In a holiday season that can seem only about getting, many parents are looking for ways to teach their children about giving instead.

Carla Stanford, Mississippi State University Extension Service child and family development area agent in Pontotoc County, said the best way to encourage a giving spirit at Christmas and all year is through role modeling.

“A parent who is not willing to be generous on a daily basis and let children know this is important will have a more difficult time raising a giving child,” Stanford said. “A family’s participation in a community event to help others is a good way to model a spirit of citizenship and giving.”

Stanford said this giving attitude is important because the ability to think of others and contemplate their needs is a skill and virtue needed for healthy emotional growth and maturity.

“Giving should not be confined to special occasions, although that may be where giving is first noticed,” Stanford said. “Parents should also show a giving spirit and encourage the same in their children every day of the year.”

Karen Benson, Extension area child and family development specialist in Neshoba County, encouraged families to make giving back part of the ritual of family life.

“I think the holidays are a good time for parents to introduce their children to the spirit of giving, but it should go on all through the year,” Benson said. “Our busy-ness is a plague to family life, and it can make us too busy to serve others. The holidays have a cultural emphasis on slowing down a little bit and doing something for someone else.”

She urged families to take advantage of the teachable moments the holidays provide. Benson said children up to age 4 focus on themselves and experiencing the world through their senses. From ages 4 to 8 they become aware of the needs of others. Children this age like to help, and parents can take advantage of this developmental stage to teach lifelong habits of giving back.

Jessi Scarbrough, a graduate assistant in MSU’s School of Human Sciences, listed several ways individuals and families can give back at the holidays:

• Classroom wish lists — practically every classroom needs supplies, and every teacher has a list of things needed in class;

• Adopt-A-Family programs — most communities have an office that lists families in need and specific items that can be purchased for them;

• Operation Christmas Child — the needy children who benefit live overseas, but families can enjoy filling shoe boxes with fun and useful gifts;

• Salvation Army bell ringers — volunteers are needed at donation kettles and to greet shoppers donating to this organization.

Numerous opportunities are available at Christmas and during the year.

Contact local county Extension Service offices, churches or service organizations to discover volunteer and service opportunities available in the community.