By Philip Brown
Whether we are celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, we can all agree that the holidays can bring out the best of us and the worst of us. As the big end of year holidays approach it is a common experience to get anxious about how much there is to do, whether we have enough gifts to make everyone happy, and if our celebration of family and religious traditions will go as we hope. Our motives may be the best, but execution is daunting.
For parents there is a particular dilemma that is in our face every day because of the commercialization of the holidays that begins in early November. How can we help our kids understand the joy of giving as well as the pleasure of receiving? How can I make it a holiday filled with love rather than a time of regret and emotional emptiness?
Opening our Hearts is Part of Forming Our Character
If we are serious about building an ethic of care and giving into our holidays, it’s best not to start during the holidays! When tensions and expectations are high is not the best time to introduce and ask or demand new behaviors from our kids. But if you decide to, start small and commit to emphasizing the power of giving throughout the year. Talking to kids about giving and how to do it from a place of compassion takes an open mind as well as an open heart and repeated exposures. Whether we’re talking about giving of our money or our time and our energies, research shows that talking with children about giving is important. Helping them understand the family and society values associated with giving, as well as involving them in the process of selecting charities or persons to whom they want to give all goes a long way in building a generous spirit in children.
Intentional teaching by talking to children about giving and charity is what works. Talk about how it makes us feel and what values we are upholding. Here are some additional tips:
- Let children know they are part of a community and global citizenship. Ask who has served your family this past year and could use some recognition. Look at where there are people in need locally, nationally and internationally.
- Get children involved in making the decisions about whom they want to give something to, whether it’s a toy, a dollar, a card, the offer of service or a good word. Think of the family and then extend outward. Simple and sweet can open the heart as much as big and fancy.
- Think of gifts of experiences rather than just material items. We remember and cherish good times together longer than almost any gift. Could a neighbor use a helping hand, the local food pantry some extra servers?
- You can help children build their character by learning how to receive gifts gracefully and with gratitude, which is as important as being a caring giver. The holidays are also about receiving. Receiving should be done with an open heart, and remembering that the person giving the gift wants to please you and make you feel good.
Dealing with Disappointments Is Part of the Learning
Dealing with disappointed expectations during holidays is a good time to be supportive of each other and remember that the holidays are about sharing the embrace of loved ones not about the size of the gifts. Be present to each other and remember that children’s learning about how to handle these intense times is rarely a smooth course. Be tolerant of their mistakes as you would want them to be of yours. Emotional honesty goes a long way to healing the wounds of dashed expectations.
Keep these tips in mind and you’ll be on your way to a heartfelt, joyous holiday time.
A version of this article was produced for the KidKind Foundation