Michelle's Blog

The Gift of Giving

It seems fitting this time of year to explore what the "gift of giving" means. Our free markets would like us to believe this relates to the act of buying merchandise for others; that this is what we define as the best form of a "present". However, the unspoken expectation is not in the gift itself, but in the delight we have giving a gift that makes someone feel good...and the gift need not be of materialistic.

What parent doesn't love the gift of a child cleaning their room without being asked just because they know this makes their parents feel good (even if it is just once a year as a holiday gift), or the child that wakes up to make a breakfast for his or her parent(s)?

We can try to teach all of our kids, whether they have social learning challenges or are just "neurotypical kids", that what counts the most is doing something purely to make someone else feel good. To do this we have to be more explicit with our children the social emotional connection. "What you do affects how I feel which changes how I treat you". If a child buys a parent a gift but then won't come out of their room to give it to the parent, how does that really make the parent feel?

Let's be honest with our children: during the holidays when children do things that make us feel good tell them explicitly. We aren't used to explaining how ones' behavior alters our emotions and then alters how we treat our kids. Nor do we often talk about the fact that how people treat us impacts how we feel about ourselves.

The chain of social behavior can be explained by exploring the fact that if I do what is expected and it makes you feel good then you treat me pretty well, which makes me feel good about myself. Or, on the flip side, if I do what is unexpected in a situation and you get upset, then you tend to treat me poorly and that makes me feel bad about myself.

This is at the heart of an approach I developed called Social Behavior Mapping. You will have much more power teaching your children to think about this when you focus on what they are doing well this holiday season rather than pointing out what they are doing that is "unexpected" the majority of the time.

As you explain to your children how they make you feel better by doing what is "expected" and then show how you are treating them well (compliments, extra privileges, etc.), you are in fact teaching them to look for the natural reward of working to make someone else feel good. That is the best gift there is and it is definitely the gift that keeps on giving.

©2012 Social Thinking Publishing - Michelle Garcia Winner  www.socialthinking.com
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