Twelve and a Half-ish Cans (A Lesson in Giving)


One of our family values is generating a mindset of giving. In the last year and a half of raising our now four-year-old, we have tried to be intentional in opportunities to model a generous spirit for our son. I’ve been so proud of the thoughtful moments our son has already initiated at his young age.

You know the ones: Like when he spots “flowers” in the grass. He’s compelled to pick a pretty one to give me, one of his grandmothers, or aunts. And at the store with his Daddy, he sometimes suggests they bring home a special treat to Mommy. This thoughtfulness has started translating into sharing toys with other kids, on his own accord. The kicker is all the times he offers to share his snack, hinting at his desire to try what the other person’s got.

But the greatest recently: After he observed us piling household items to donate, our son wanted to donate a few toys. He understood the toys would be given to kids who don’t have as many. It was surprising and absolutely precious! But then I realized we needed to explain the concept further; that we donate what we’re done playing with. When he found out he wouldn’t get a NEW tow-truck set after donating his to another kid, he opted to think about it some more!

I love witnessing this baby as he becomes increasingly receptive to the idea of giving. It’s like a muscle that needs to be used and strengthened, and I can’t wait to see how strong it gets!

Preschool-wide food drive

My son started a great Preschool program this year. I am glad it’s providing extra opportunities to teach giving in new ways. It’s a bonus that he will see other kids and families joining in the effort too. Our first task of the school year is a food drive for local families struggling around the holidays. I almost mindlessly went to the store to get the task done while my son was at Preschool one morning. But then I remembered this is my child’s task! If I involve my son in the shopping, that’s one activity we can do in an afternoon together. It would prompt a greater conversation about the food drive. Plus, my son would get to feel responsible for our donation.

We were eating lunch when I brought it up to him, and I was a little surprised at his reluctance…

4-year-old: “But no, I don’t want to donate any food. If we give other people food then I won’t have any food ever again.”


My mind flashed back to a topic my husband and I learned about in 30+ hours of education for our adoption process. At the Empowered to Connect Conference, Dr. David R. Cross (co-author of The Connected Child) shared that the “brain never forgets a serious hunger event.” Even a child too young to consciously recall it, their brain will always remember this unmet need. This inner trauma can resurface as insecurity and a fear of not having food.

We have had to come to grips with the fact that we don’t know ALL our son’s history before joining our family. When he’s upset, at times we’ve had to be conscientious that there could be a deeper insecurity surfacing. Or maybe he misunderstood prior experiences, leading to confusion in a present situation. We received medical files, developmental reports, and pictures from his life before us. I do believe our son was well loved and provided for during his first few years of life in another country. But the fact of the matter is, there is no way to be certain that he has never experienced something like hunger in his life.

Now, I know my son’s response could have been typical child behavior: like needing to learn how to share. He could have been practicing absolute terms: like never, always, and ever again. But we adopted this little one with a real history. We need to be aware and weigh out what could be the root of certain behavioral patterns: typical childhood or previous trauma. Regardless, at this moment, I felt a strong need to give direct reassurance of his security.

Me: “Listen, baby… you will always have food. You don’t ever have to worry about that. We will always get more food. And because we have lots of food, that means we can give some to people who don’t have lots of food.”

After a moment of consideration, he pinched his finger and thumb together, and said warily, “Okay… But only a little food we will get to donate to other people. And we need food for us too!”

Me: “Yes, we will get some food for us too.”

Off to the grocery store…

I wanted to empower my son as much as possible to make decisions through this experience. So I offered him two choices of grocery stores we could go to. When we were in the first aisle of the store he chose, I pulled out the list of items needed for the food drive. I tried to break up the items into a few categories and asked my son which items in each category we should buy to donate.

Me: “Should we donate canned green beans, or canned corn?”

4-year-old: “Both!”

I smiled as I realized he’s already come around to this type of giving…

Me: “Okay. How many green beans should we get?”

4-year-old: “Well, let’s just get twelve and a half…ish,” he said as he shrugged his shoulders.

Amusement spread across my face. I was in awe of where this was going. I wish I could say we got twelve and a half-ish. Instead, I asked him to choose a smaller number so we could buy a variety of items to donate. (But you know what, next time I’m going to buy the twelve and a half-ish canned green beans. Or whatever he says in the moment, if at all possible. I love a little bit of outrageousness every now and then.)

4-year-old: “Two green beans. And three cans of corn.”

And so we were off meandering down the aisles, my four-year-old deciding which items and how many of them we bought. I kept mental tabs on the total to stay in a relative budget. If needed, I could counter him with other options or decide we were finished with shopping at any point.

It’s entertaining to give my child leeway in situations that lend the flexibility. I sometimes even feel decision fatigue, so I’ll have him make the choice for us! I enjoy hearing my son’s thought process and seeing what he decides. The number of spaghetti boxes we bought was based on how many would give him enough “blocks” to play with in the cart. Just as good of a reason as any! This kid knows what he wants and he was thrilled to have so much control in this experience of giving. He was also excited to see the cans and boxes of food stack up in the cart. It provided a natural desire to practice his counting!

As we loaded up the car afterwards, I exhaled with relief. Considering my son’s initial reaction to the food drive, we made enormous progress in the giving perspective through it. And we made it fun! Last, but not least, another family or two won’t have to worry about some meals this season. And maybe a child won’t have to experience a true hunger episode that could have lasting effects.

A win all around.

As we enter the seasons that inspire giving, I’d love to hear some ways you have included your child in the act of giving!