By Terry Rogers
Christmas can be a struggle for many parents, especially those who may be unable to purchase expensive toys that their children are asking for during the holidays. It may be difficult to explain to small children why a friend received an Xbox for Christmas but Santa did not bring one to their home or why their neighborhood friend has so many gifts while they only have a few. Many experts say that the key to dealing with such imbalance is to teach children when they are young that the holiday season should be about giving, not receiving.
There are many ways to teach children about giving, not only during the holidays, but throughout the year. Charitable organizations are one of the best ways to engage your children in the giving spirit, regardless of their age. It is very difficult during the holiday season, however, with advertising promoting the latest toy or electronic gadget as children, especially young ones, are instinctively materialistic. However, some parents have found unique ways to instill a sense of giving in their children. Some of them have children who are now adults who say that the giving spirit is still with them as they began the process early.
“Clark Howard, a radio host near us, has a program each year called Clark’s Christmas Kids,” said Kim Duncan. “He broadcasts his show from different Wal-Mart locations in this area and ask people to come by and pick up a list from a foster child and shop for them. My husband and I make an effort to take our son each year to shop for one of those kids, even though our son is now an adult.”
Dede Lallande offered a similar description about their own daughter who is now an adult. Ms. Lallande said that when her daughter was in a playgroup when she was young, instead of purchasing gifts for the children, the group went to a local charity that provided help for low-income families and donated money or supplies.
“In later years, we would go to the mall to see the decorations and do a little shopping,” Ms. Lallande said. “We always stopped at the Salvation Army tree and had Becky pick a name. We then shopped for that child, getting the things on the list but also letting her choose a special gift she thought the child might like.”
Tracy Callahan said that she had her two children take items from their own cabinet to donate to a food pantry, but that there are other things parents should do to avoid the commercialism of Christmas. She said it is easy for parents to feel the need to give their children everything on the list, but that may not be what the child actually sees as important, relating a story about her own daughter in demonstration.
“I once went all out for my children at Christmas,” she said. “We were driving to my parents’ house for dinner and heard sniffling in the backseat. I saw that my daughter had tears in her eyes and asked what was wrong. Her daughter told her that Santa had not brought her any books.” Ms. Callahan said she did not look at it as her daughter being ungrateful but it demonstrated to her that, as a mother, she did not really listen to her daughter. She said that excess may actually be as much the fault of the parent as it is a child making demands.
There are many options for teaching children that it is more important to give during the holidays than it is to receive. One suggestion is to take the children to a nursing home and let them hand out candy canes and hugs to the seniors who may not have family nearby during the holidays. When choosing gifts for adopted families, encourage children to purchase an item they have on their own Christmas list to demonstrate the good feeling that comes from giving something they want themselves.
Another way to be sure that children understand the benefits of giving is to perform acts of charity throughout the year, not just at Christmas. Homeless shelters and other organizations need donations all year, not just at the holidays. Make the visit to the nursing home a monthly event, having the children bring small tokens with them for a holiday that month, such as candy hearts at Valentine’s Day, shamrocks for St. Patrick’s Day and so on. Have the children sit down with the calendar and decide what holiday they want to celebrate with someone who is less fortunate, whether at a homeless shelter, an orphanage or a senior citizens home.
Starting young is one of the best ways to begin teaching children the true spirit of giving at the holidays, but it is not too late even if your children are in their teens. Begin talking to them about the spirit of giving and decide with them what they would like to do to give to others during that time. They may surprise you with their generosity.