Q. It’s the holiday season and my children are already talking about what they want and what they will get for Christmas. As a parent, what can I do to teach my children to appreciate what they receive, but also understand the importance of giving and helping others who are less fortunate?
A. Holiday consumerism can be a major problem—one that doesn’t seem to have a quick fix. In addressing it with our children, though, there are some things we can do to combat it. Your question mentions teaching kids to appreciate the gifts they receive. I think that’s a great start. I’m a big proponent of deliberate gift unwrapping, as opposed to holidays where kids tear through gift after gift without coming up for air in between. I think the forced slower pace allows for acknowledgment and appreciation. Handwritten thank you cards are also helpful to that end. To encourage cheerful giving, you might consider setting aside time for a special outing for each of your children during which he or she gets to shop for a sibling. In my experience, kids really do enjoy gift giving, when they have an opportunity to do it. To take it a step further, you might have a weekly family activity in December, during which everybody writes something kind about another family member—a favorite memory or an appreciated trait. After the last time, those heartfelt sentiments can be wrapped and gifted.
Teaching compassion for those who are less fortunate can be a tougher lesson for little ones because it’s hard to understand that which they’ve never known or been exposed to. One of the ways I try to encourage my kids each year around Christmas time is to allow them to pack shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child with Samaritan’s Purse. We take a special shopping trip during which the kids pick small toys, hygiene items and novelties for children in developing countries. Later in the year we get an email letting us know which country our boxes were shipped to and then we have further opportunity to learn more about that country. There are other Christian organizations (World Vision and Compassion, for example) that have holiday catalogs that allow givers to choose livestock, mosquito nets and other items for people in developing countries. All of these opportunities for giving—when shared with our children—can be powerful ways to model compassion.