Help Your Child Discover Her Inner Angel
Many children experience the holidays as a time to create lists of all
the material goods they covet, and toy companies spend fortunes on TV
ads designed to induce cravings for more, more, more in our children.
It’s our job as parents to protect our kids from this assault. Instead
of excessive presents – which always leave kids feeling unfulfilled --
fill your child’s deep longings with presence and connection.
Begin by committing to plenty of family time for the month of December. If your child gets more of you, he won't be filled with such fierce material cravings.
Then, manage expectations. Discourage the whole idea of list-making, which focuses kids on consumerism instead of the meaning of the holiday. Snuggle with each child and ask her to sift through her desires and tell you:
- One present they really want, that is within your means.
- One book.
- One “together” present (such as your taking them ice skating or playing their favorite board game)
- One present that it would make them happy to give to someone else (“Should we assemble a kit of your old dress-up clothes for your cousin? Fill kids’ gift stockings for a family shelter?”)
Finally, be sure your kids get a chance to experience how good it feels to give to others. How?
1. Have a Charity night. You could call it something with more resonance for your kids, like Gift for the World Night, or Tzedakah Night (the Jewish equivalent that means restoring Justice). Let your kids make a “Wish List” of all the ways they’d like to make the world a better place. Then let each person in the family choose one thing to do to address one of those issues. For instance, you might make a donation to Heifer International, plan to volunteer at your local Meals on Wheel delivering food, and make a commitment to reduce your carbon emissions by walking more instead of driving. Kids who feel they're making a positive difference in the world are more optimistic and empowered to make a difference.
2. Go to the roots of your tradition to talk about giving. What does your December holiday mean to you? Kwanzaa, for instance, is about the principles and practice of bringing good into the world. Celebrating the birth of Christ gives ample opportunity to talk about love and good deeds. Chanuka is about rededicating our selves to the miracle of faith. If you aren't religious, what meaning do you invest in your December celebrations?
3. Model generosity. Buy and wrap mittens and gloves for needy families. Give to the Salvation Army bell-ringer. Donate to a worthy cause in honor of the holiday. Make giving a part of your daily life.
4. Volunteer as a family. My kids and I volunteered for years at a local soup kitchen, and my kids loved feeling they made a difference. It also helped when they saw a homeless person to know that person could go get a hot meal at “our” soup kitchen.
What else can kids do? Sort food at a food bank. Help you
deliver Meals on Wheels. Stuff stockings. Donate to a local shelter
that serves families. Organize a book drive and ship the books off to
Reader to Reader.
Or give them a set amount to spend and take them to the toy store
where they can pick out a gift for a needy child, and let them
personally deliver it to a children’s hospital, homeless shelter or
charity drop-off point.
5. Every child deserves the pleasure of giving her own money to a worthy cause. Try giving a little extra weekly allowance that goes in a special "charity" jar, and letting her give it away every year at the holidays.
6. Have your kids dictate thank you cards to everyone whose presence enriches their life all year long, and then deliver them.
7. Spread sweetness. Work together to make
pies or cookies. Together, take your goodies to your local
soup kitchen, home for the elderly, or to the firehouse where folks are
hard at work on the holiday.
8. Make a Santa's Workshop. Go through the house together looking for anything you no longer use that could be cleaned or repaired and donated. Go through each child’s room with them and create a “give-away” box of gently used items to pass on to kids who need them. Have a family session to clean and repair old toys and clothes and take them to donate.
9. Get kids giving. Make simple, inexpensive, fun presents together for your kids’ friends and cousins: homemade bubbles, fingerpaints, clay, dress-up boxes, jewelry-making kits, puppet-making kits, candy-making kits, snowglobes.
10. Don’t force kids to share before they’re ready. And don’t force your kids to give things up “because others are needy.” Giving shouldn’t be painful, and it will backfire.
11. Model taking responsibility for your community. "It's a pain to carry this trash till we get to the car, but I don't see a trashcan and we never litter.” “This sign says parking is reserved for handicapped people, so of course we can't take that spot.""It's the holidays, and all kids deserve a present. Let's buy an extra one of these to wrap and donate."
12. Start while your kids are young. Talk explicitly about your values and why they're important to you. Why do we share with others less fortunate? What does this holiday mean to us? As they get into their teen years, they’ll live your values and find worthy causes of their own.
13. Share the idea with your kids that giving to others is one of the reasons we’re alive. And one of the ways we can all make the world a better place.