The holiday season is upon us, which means it’s time to get in the gift-giving spirit. For parents, it’s important to instill such a spirit early in childhood. And sometimes, that can be difficult to do.
Sharing the Spirit
Susanne Henderson, licensed psychologist and director of Burrell Autism Center and Children’s Day Treatment at Burrell Behavioral Health in Springfield, offers some tips on how to get kids of all ages involved in spreading holiday cheer during the season and year round.
“It’s important for parents to lead by example,” she says. “Show children that giving makes you feel good.”
That means using words and expressing to your children that it feels to give, saying phrases like: “Did you see how excited (blank) was when they opened the gift from you? That makes me happy to see them so happy.” or “The people that are going to receive the (charitable donation) are going to appreciate it so much; that makes me feel good to give back.”
This is especially important for small children who may not completely grasp that holidays (birthdays included) aren’t all about what they receive but also about what they can give.
One way to get children of all ages excited about giving gifts is to get them involved in the process, Henderson says.
“Make the gift personal. If you’re buying a gift for grandma, ask children what they think Grandma likes and why—make the gift about and for Grandma,” she says. Then, children can make or buy a gift that Grandma, or whoever the gift recipient may be, will treasure.
Nicole Nichols, elementary director at North Point Church in Springfield, agrees that getting children involved is integral in showing them the reason for the season.
“The first important step in training kids to appreciate the reason for the season would be to teach them what it’s all about. We can’t assume that everyone knows about the story of Jesus,” Nichols says.
After sharing the story of Jesus as the reason for the season, Nichols says it’s important to show children how the spirit remains today through service.
“I believe that serving is the hinge that opens the heart to worship,” she says. “A great way to remind kids the importance of Christmas is to create an opportunity for them to serve others.”
Children can get involved by helping others that are less fortunate: volunteering with the family to serve a holiday meal to those in need or “find a family who may be less fortunate and bless them with a Christmas dinner or even some gifts.”
“Reminding kids the importance of putting others before themselves” can help demonstrate the reason for the season, Nichols says.
“After all, from the moment Jesus was born, He was all about serving others,” she adds. “Giving kids the opportunity to serve others at a young age will help them to remember the reason for the season.”
Preparing for Parties
To discourage tantrums, attitudes or feelings of dissatisfaction, Henderson says it’s important to set expectations appropriately, and then let children know what they are.
“Prepare beforehand so children aren’t caught off guard when they don’t get all the gifts,” Henderson says. “Talking to them on the way to a party or a relative’s house for a gift exchange and letting them know what is going to happen and how you expect them to behave is important.”
Explain how you expect them to behave when it’s time to share the spotlight and gifts as well as what the consequences will be if the expectations aren’t met, she says.
Henderson says it’s important for parents to also have realistic expectations for themselves when they look at the space under the tree.
Often times, children are happy when parents will watch a favorite movie with them, or just spend a special day together.“It’s more about time spent with your children and your family than the gifts received.”
“It’s more about time spent with your children and your family than the gifts received,” she says, emphasizing that while parents are often more concerned about quantity of gifts, children are just as happy, and often more satisfied, with quality time with family members.
While we can’t give our children the world, we can let them know they are the world tous by spending time, not necessarily money, on them. The best memories can also be the least expensive.