As Christmas rolls around, my first question to my kids is, “So, what do you want for Christmas this year?” Of course, they joyfully provide me with their lists of most-coveted toys, video games, and obnoxiously-oversized stuffed animals. Truthfully, their lists leave me a little flat, knowing my kids have so MUCH STUFF and wondering if they really understand the deeper meaning of Christmas.
The joys of giving, the sweetness of gathering friends and family, a celebration of a special birthday symbolizing the purest act of love: that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown. But how can we as parents convey these ideas as important when they are in competition with life-size stuffed animals and robots that know us by name?
Small shifts to change
I often think that change works better in small shifts rather than grandiose gestures, especially with kids. I’m not suggesting we stop giving our kids presents; I love presents, and I delight in watching their faces as they open a special gift. Instead, I’m suggesting a subtle shift, an add-on to make the season a bit more jolly and bright.
In addition to asking, “What are you getting for Christmas this year?”, let’s add (oh-so-subtly), “What are you giving for Christmas this year?” For the month of December, let’s encourage some acts of kindness for your kids’ friends, teachers, neighbors, and family. Maybe they can do one thing each week for someone else, or three acts of giving during the month of December. Let your kids be a part of the #givingchallenge brainstorming session to come up with ideas. Here’s a tool for planning.
For those of you with sassy children or tweens/teens, expect resistance. The eye-rolls will be in full effect, as well as the misguided pleas of, “Don’t make me give my toys away, mommy!” Push through the resistance and remember that love is your superpower.
Teaching our kids about giving is vital. Giving to others teaches our kids about empathy and compassion; it helps them to see they are actually not the center of the universe (shocker!) Giving, volunteering, and acts of kindness help them build emotional connections to people around them and to understand that their actions have an impact on others.
Giving will also give our kids a Christmas glow. Studies show that giving is associated with greater happiness, increased self-esteem, lower stress levels, and even a longer life. Also, kids who volunteer are less likely to engage in risky behaviors like using drugs when they are teens.
I know what you’re thinking. You don’t have time to add something else to your overflowing to-do list. Me neither. The truth is, we are never going to have enough time, and there is never going to be a “just right” time to instill these values in our kids. This is it. Make it a priority, do it now, and keep it simple.
Some easy, impactful things our kids can do to experience the joys of giving:
- Bake some cookies for a neighbor;
- Write a thank-you note to their teacher;
- Make a homemade Christmas craft for a family member;
- Write a letter telling their best friend or sibling what they love about them;
- Give a compliment to a classmate who needs a boost;
- Use their allowance to buy a toy for someone less fortunate;
- Sing Christmas carols at a retirement home;
- Donate toys to a secondhand shop and give the money to a charity;
- Help mom or dad around the house.
After they do an act of kindness, talk with your kids about how it made them feel to do something for someone else. Warm fuzzies will likely abound (even if they won’t admit it).
Making the shift from “What are you getting?” to “What are you giving?” does not have to be elaborate or complicated. You do not have to open an orphanage in Africa. You do not have to channel Mother Teresa. The beauty of giving is the simplicity of it and the ripple effects that extend far beyond your circle. This year, Christmas is going to be extra merry. Happy Giving!