It’s that time of year when we give more gifts in a smaller amount of time than any other.
If you are like me, it’s both a wonderful time (especially when the gifts seem effortless to give and the person so well deserving of some love and appreciation) and a stressful time (when the gifts seem expected or pressured and the budget is getting out of hand).
But when it comes to our kids it can be difficult to help them understand that they are not the center of the world and Christmas is more about the joy of giving than getting.
How do we raise kids who love to GIVE in a season when they are tempted to only think about what they can GET??
As with all things, this starts with us. Are we as parents modeling the kind of behavior we’d like to see in our children?? I had to take A MAJOR look in the mirror on this one – as someone who tends to get more than a few things for MYSELF on Black Friday and very few things for anyone else.
Do my actions communicate to my children that I get JOY in my life is from getting all the things I want?? -Or- have I learned the hard lesson, that when I sacrifice, say no to my own material “needs” (and I use the word needs ever so lightly) and create margin in my life to share or spend money on OTHERS there is an even greater joy and satisfaction to be found?
Once we have taken a look in the mirror, I would propose to you that the next best way to ensure our children are generous givers is to present them with opportunities to give that allow them to experience the natural joy we all get when something we have done blesses someone else in a real and tangible way.
Not all giving is created equal when it comes to our children FEELING the joy. If we are buying toys to drop into a toys for tots bin, for kids they will never see and know nothing about – it’s going to be difficult for them to imagine or experience the joy that child will experience from their generosity. If we are donating to a cause online, it can be extremely difficult for our children to understand the impact we are making.
Here are a few ideas that can allow our children to not only participate in the act of generosity, but EMOTIONALLY experience the satisfaction of their actions – and THIS positive emotion will be embedded into their hearts and minds for the rest of their lives.
- Filling shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child: I love this ministry/activity because your child gets to choose the gender and age of the child who will be receiving the box. They can add handmade cards and notes and gifts. And then you can also track the box and see where it’s going – adding this personal touch helps to create ownership and excitement around the personal nature of what we are doing and who gets blessed by our generosity.
- Adopting a Family for Christmas: I love this activity because you get to adopt a LOCAL family. It’s an entire family, and you will get some personal information about the kids in the family. Anything personal that we can share with our kids about who we are serving will help them to make real connections. I also love the website I linked here – they have some great questions to continue the conversation with your kids as you are doing the activity or after.
- Picking out gifts for friends and family members: This is the MOST personal gift giving you can encourage your kids to do. Some kids are naturally very generous, while others could use some direction. I have a few of each kind of child and with my children who struggle a little more I like to take some time, one-on-one and ask them questions to help them think generously.
“What is (Grandma)’s favorite thing to do?”
“She likes baking”
“Ok! What is something we could get her that would allow her to enjoy that even more?”
“What do you love doing with (Uncle Jo-Jo)?”
“I love playing soccer with him!”
“Ok! What gift could we give him to thank him for that?”
Walking them through questions like this helps to teach them how to think of others, how to be grateful for the ways each person in our family adds something unique to our lives AND the coolest part about this kind of gift giving: your child can BE THERE when the gift is received. I think this is 100% NECESSARY that your child sees the actual JOY on someone’s face when they receive a gift from your child. It’s just the BEST and actually can become addictive. Your child will WANT to keep giving after feeling that joy and satisfaction.
- Making gifts for others or providing a service: I love the idea of teaching my kids that sometimes being generous doesn’t require any money at all. Whether it’s making cookies for a neighbor or soup for a friend who is sick. Or maybe helping someone with yard work or doing volunteer work at a local animal shelter – our TIME and TALENTS are gifts along with our material treasures.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. I’m sure you can find many more ways to cultivate generosity – my challenge to you is to make sure there is a tangible, experiential, component to the activities you choose. The more of this our children encounter and personally feel the impact of their actions, the more we can encourage that our children not only go through the motions of generosity, but REALLY feel the joy of giving.