We all love giving gifts to our children, but at some point, even the coolest, most sought-after toys, games, electronic devices, fancy clothes, and cars fall flat. That’s because they just don’t have the same value as another type of gift—one that will help children experience a rich, fulfilling life. I’m talking about the gifts of responsibility, honesty, self-esteem, communication, feeling full, and compassion. More and more parents are learning how vital those qualities are to a child’s future—and that only we, as parents, can impart them to our children.
Although each family I’ve encountered has a slightly different list of gifts they’d like to give their children, here are my top 10, which I’ve explored further in my book, the 20th-anniversary edition of The 10 Greatest Gifts I Give My Children.
1. The Gift of Feeling Fully
People with the gift of feeling fully enjoy richer experiences with friends, and family, and are more aware of tomorrow’s opportunities. Life is full of highs and lows and endless experiences that can open our hearts and minds. I didn’t get to experience this life gift for much of my 20s and 30s. When I was 25 and my brother Eddy passed away, I was afraid to experience my pain, so I shut down my feelings. Years later, I realized it’s not possible to shut out painful feelings without shutting out joyful ones. I missed much of life’s richness and aliveness during those years. I couldn’t fully enjoy the beauty of a mountain sunset, laugh uncontrollably, or shed a tear after a superb novel or movie.
2. The Gift of Self-Esteem
Self-esteem anchors people with openness and strength, foundations for good decisions, and beautiful life. For most of us, much of our self-esteem comes from our parents. Young people without self-esteem may be the bullies—or the kids who can’t say no to drugs, who a ride in a car with a drunk driver, or who end up hanging with the wrong crowd. With self-esteem, children are capable and resilient, regardless of circumstances. They stay true to their sense of self. But fostering self-esteem is not about endless praise that may or may not be earned: It’s about giving children your full attention and taking an interest in them, their interests, and their activities. The message that sends your child is that he or she matters.
3. The Gift of Compassion
People with this gift not only sense injustice but act upon it. Children without compassion have little concern for how they care for their possessions, where they throw their trash, or how they offend others with rude language. Fortunately, this gift fits the saying, “What goes around, comes around”. A compassionate child interacts with people who value kindness and fairness. These children become surrounded by like-mindedness that boomerangs positivity back into their lives. Most important, they learn how to reflect gentleness and compassion within themselves.
4. The Gift of Balance
Modeling balance for my children encourages their productive, refreshing, and creative spirits. For decades I was completely out of balance. My life was mostly about building my career with 70-hour work weeks. Consequently, I missed out on the joys of play, family, hobbies, and relaxation. Not anymore. My example now gives them permission to play hard and enjoy work, to choose adventures with zest and without guilt.
5. The Gifts of Humor and Laughter
When our children have this gift, they express optimism, have more friends, and enjoy greater health. My wife Barb expects to find humor in her days. She doesn’t have to search hard for it because she knows it’s everywhere. So, it just shows up. She taught me how to laugh at the world and at ourselves. Our laughter reduces stress and deepens our bond. Laughter is also a powerful antidote to conflict, pain, disease and hurt. It rebuilds communication. Imagine your child laughing thousands and thousands of extra moments!
6. The Gift of Communication
Good communicators thrive in life—and in their careers. Because they speak and listen authentically, they develop rich friendships and relationships. Their communication skills give them the confidence to speak up and engage fully in meaningful conversations, opening doors in their personal and professional lives. All children have innate gifts: The children who can convey their gifts with confidence and ease have a distinct advantage.
7. The Gift of Abundance
When people have this gift, they recognize an unending pattern in life—that life continues to recreate goodness and value. There are no limits. They believe that there is always another day. Living with limited thinking runs against the natural rhythm of life. Even in a tough situation, these people get right back up and ask, “What can I learn from this situation and how can I get stronger tomorrow?” Through hard work and having a solid character, they achieve their goals. They live in a world of endless choices and endless opportunities for success, fun, joy, and closeness.
8. The Gift of Responsibility
The root of responsibility is response-able: People without this gift are victims in life. They can’t think for themselves and begin to act helpless and powerless. Responsible children take on chores and homework because they have come to understand that it’s an easier way to enjoy their lives. Responsible people have the freedom and power to manage their lives.
9. The Gift of Conscious Choice
The most empowering and life-affirming of all the gifts, conscious choice, allows us to determine how to make things happen and how to avoid being a victim, no matter what the circumstances. With this gift, I accept that I can’t control what happens in my life, but I can control how I respond to what happens. People’s bad moods don’t need to become mine. I can choose to take a break and reset my day.
10. The Gift of Honesty
With this gift, children never have to look over their shoulders wondering if they might get caught. Their lives are simple and peaceful as they never have to try and remember what story they might have made up. These are the people that we trust and admire. These are the people that we want beside us at work and at play. Honest people are never alone.
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