As the holiday shopping season moves into full swing, we’re bombarded with the usual messages to “Buy! Buy! Buy!” As adults, we can tune out a certain amount of this noise, but children aren’t so readily equipped. For them, the constant barrage of commercialism can lead to a selfish urge to acquire the latest toys, games and other shiny objects advertised on screens both big and hand-held.
So, how can you help your children focus on giving rather than receiving? Here are some tips from the parenting experts at Boys Town:
- Make gratitude a core value of your family life. When your children receive a gift, have them focus on the generosity and kindness of the giver and talk about how the child will benefit from the gift, rather than how much the item costs or what it looks like. Insist that your child thank the giver verbally, and make sure your kids write thank-you notes.
- Help your children make a list of gifts they are going to give. Contain the “gimme syndrome” by putting limits on the number of items kids can put on their holiday wish lists and how often they can add to or change the lists. Then, turn their attention (and yours) to concentrating on gifts they want to give to others. Encourage your children to create homemade gifts, as well as give gifts of service such as reading to a sibling or spending time helping grandparents with household chores.
- When your child receives something, have him/her give something away. Before the holiday season and gift-giving get too far underway, have your children (and apply the same principle to yourself!) select gently used toys and clothes to donate to others. Remind them that people are in need every day.
Sometimes the Best Things Aren’t ‘Things’
Remember that talking doll that you just had to have for Christmas? The one you played with for a day and then left in your closet to collect dust? The pleasure gained from receiving a thing is sometimes fleeting, but the pleasure gained from receiving a heartfelt gesture often lasts a lifetime.
- Reward your child with time and attention rather than things:Hugs, kisses, and time spent with Mom and Dad are what young children crave most. Rather than rewarding good behavior with a new toy, reward your child with an extra story at bedtime, playing a board game together or inviting a friend to come over to play. This will decrease the value placed on “things” and increase the value of time spent together.
- Find ways to involve your child in service activities:If you volunteer with a particular organization, take this time of year to explain to your child why you do so, or even have your child help you. It is easier to for children to put giving back in perspective when they can participate. Tell Susie that another family may not have as many toys, and ask if she would like to give one of hers to a child who does not have one. Encourage your child to have empathy and caring for others.
Teaching your children to focus on giving rather than receiving naturally increases their empathy. And let’s not forget, a grateful child is invariably happier than an envious child.