Family Life

Curb the Gimmies with the Spirit of Giving

Do you ever cringe like the Grinch whenever your child rushes through Christmas gifts and does not stop for a second to say thank you? Society’s commercialized view of Christmas has led too many kids to learn the cultural perspective–get, get, get, and consume! Here are some simple and fun ways you can teach your children the true meaning of Christmas.

The Joy of Giving
Bringing kids along on Christmas shopping trips is always challenging. Giving them the responsibility of picking out the gifts will not only show them how the act of giving is as exciting as receiving, but it will also prevent them from begging and whining the entire trip. 

When Shannon Janis has to bring her children along on the trip, she tells them, “We have to look at the toys we may want to send to relatives who send us gifts first.” Once they finish, she lets them take a picture of the toys they may want. Children love any reason to create a wishlist. Janis adds, “We recently started a new tradition with them where they can ask for three gifts–something they want, need, and something to read.”

Giving children boundaries and expectations beforehand can prevent tantrums. Dr. Christine Belaire, a local licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, suggests creating a habit of talking about the day and what to expect from the day. She says, “Before the trip to the store, parents can talk about going to the store and place limits on the expectations. If whining and begging are becoming habits, parents can set limits about only looking in the toy section if the child is not whining or begging. If the child begins to whine or beg, then it is time to leave the toy section. Following through with this limit will help curb unwanted behavior.”

Toys are not the only gifts children can pick out. Let them pick out gifts for their older siblings or their grandparents. If they are older and they receive an allowance, let them buy some gifts too. It will be a great opportunity for them to learn how to shop on a budget.

It is no better time than Christmastime to teach your children about the joy of donating. New clutter arrives with the new toys. Set aside a day before Christmas for them to make space by donating their old toys to a local hospital, clinic, or head start program.

Children need to learn how to go through hardships of parting with old personal possessions and making personal sacrifices to understand philanthropy better. Emphasize that their least favorite toy might become another child’s new favorite. Dr. Belaire states, “When children recognize a need in others, they are usually eager to help. The more we talk about what other children need, we can help our own children become more empathetic and more generous.”

Gifts of Kindness
Demonstrate how fun acts of kindness can be. Instead of filling the advent calendar with meaningless treats, do an activity each day. Make new special memories and spend an afternoon baking treats for volunteers and neighbors. You could dress up in fun Christmas attire and sing a few carols during the deliveries. Like Buddy from Elf has once said, “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.”

Christi Daigle, a mother of two, says, “It is always nice to deliver new toys or send handwritten cards to the children’s hospital to brighten their day.” If it is impossible to fit in a visit, you can send the cards through the mail. For instance, organizations like Hugs and Hope accept homemade cards and gifts through the mail. You can also send care packages to U.S. soldiers through the Red Cross Holiday Mail for Heroes.

Daigle adds, “Other ways to practice the spirit of giving include choosing pictures online to create a photo book for an elderly family member. What grandparent doesn’t love pictures of their family?” There are many other great ideas on the Random Acts of Kindness website. Here are 12 examples:

  1. Distribute candy canes in town.
  2. Leave a sweet note for the mail carrier or delivery person.
  3. Help someone decorate.
  4. Give old Christmas decorations to a family in need.
  5. Use recycled wrapping paper and gift bags to help the planet.
  6. Create a hot cocoa stand and donate the money to a charity.
  7. Clean up a park or playground.
  8. Volunteer at an animal shelter or foster an animal.
  9. Do a sibling’s chore.
  10. Help a family member wash their car.
  11. Hold a toy drive in your neighborhood.
  12. Pick a street and write something like “Have a great day!” on every driveway in colorful chalk.

Promoting Gratitude and Appreciation
It does not take much to show a simple thank you goes a long way. Stressing thankfulness and gratitude help children grow into adults who feel appreciative rather than entitled. After the holidays, encourage your child to send thank you cards or pictures to people who gave him gifts. Your child can also express his appreciation to teachers, coaches, or the local police and firefighter departments by distributing baked goods with thank you notes attached.

Creating meaningful experiences centered on giving and gratitude for your children during the holidays instills the values of empathy and philanthropy that they will carry with them throughout their lives. So, work your Christmas magic and help your children honor the true meaning of the season. ■

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