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Cultivating Holiday Gratitude in Your Children

Description

You CAN instill gratitude and other-centeredness in your children during the holidays. Greg Smalley offers terrific suggestions for cultivating character traits you want your kids to embrace.

Dear Greg,

For months our children have been talking about all the toys they’ll be getting for Christmas, and they are constantly asking for all sorts of different things. Of course we plan to buy them gifts, but we’re worried about them being so focused on getting “stuff.” What can we do to help them understand that the holidays are not about materialism?

Answer:

One of the great joys of Christmas is seeing a child’s face light up when they receive a gift they’ve been anticipating. Not only does the child have the pleasure of getting the item they wanted, but parents are gratified knowing they “got it right.”

Unfortunately, in a bid to make sure they don’t disappoint their kids, parents can spend inordinate amounts of money to get that perfect gift or, worse yet, pile on the presents on Christmas morning. The result: kids can become accustomed to receiving without experiencing proper gratitude.

Getting gifts isn’t the true problem. It’s receiving them mindlessly, which can develop a sense of entitlement that leads to self-centeredness. Unless we deliberately teach gratefulness, our giving can train our children to greater levels of selfishness.

But the good news is that we can cultivate in our children those character traits we want them to embrace. So, what can we do to help replace selfishness and self-centeredness with gratitude and other-centeredness during the holidays?

First, communicate honestly and clearly with your kids about what they should expect. If they present you a wish list as long as your arm, let them know that while they can look forward to gifts they’ll enjoy, they should expect a few gifts, not everything under the sun. And if they ask for something that’s clearly beyond your budget, inform them gently that it won’t be appearing underneath the tree.

While tamping down their expectations might provide a good reality-check when it comes to gifts, you’ll also want teach them that Christmas is really a season of giving, not getting. One way of doing this is to think of someone in your community or your church who may be going through a difficult time. Maybe someone is grieving the loss of a loved one, or there’s an older housebound person your family could reach out to who would value some companionship. Talk with your kids about ways you might make the holidays a little brighter for that person – perhaps baking and delivering cookies, or including him or her in part of your holiday celebrations. Encourage your children to think creatively about helping others. Participating in programs like Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree toy drive or  Operation Christmas Child by Samaritan’s Purse are other good ways of redirecting attention from oneself to others who are truly in need.

But the good news is that we can cultivate in our children those character traits we want them to embrace. So, what can we do to help replace selfishness and self-centeredness with gratitude and other-centeredness during the holidays?

First, communicate honestly and clearly with your kids about what they should expect. If they present you a wish list as long as your arm, let them know that while they can look forward to gifts they’ll enjoy, they should expect a few gifts, not everything under the sun. And if they ask for something that’s clearly beyond your budget, inform them gently that it won’t be appearing underneath the tree.

While tamping down their expectations might provide a good reality-check when it comes to gifts, you’ll also want teach them that Christmas is really a season of giving, not getting. One way of doing this is to think of someone in your community or your church who may be going through a difficult time. Maybe someone is grieving the loss of a loved one, or there’s an older housebound person your family could reach out to who would value some companionship. Talk with your kids about ways you might make the holidays a little brighter for that person – perhaps baking and delivering cookies, or including him or her in part of your holiday celebrations. Encourage your children to think creatively about helping others. Participating in programs like Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree toy drive or  Operation Christmas Child by Samaritan’s Purse are other good ways of redirecting attention from oneself to others who are truly in need.

Most importantly, don’t forget the real reason for the season. Be intentional about incorporating your faith and values into your conversations about the holidays. Talk about why your family celebrates the way it does, and what values your traditions hold. And, consider adding new traditions that are focused around serving those who are less fortunate.

Finally, after Christmas, you can have your children practice a time-honored custom that has fallen by the wayside in recent times—sending thank-you notes or emails to family and friends who gave them gifts.

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