When they are young, the spirit of Christmas for kids is all about presents and Santa Claus. As parents, we delight in hearing the squeals of excitement that Christmas morning is finally here. We delight in watching their eyes light up as they rip through the wrapping of the presents underneath the Christmas tree to discover the treasure hidden inside. Then, they get older and sometimes need to hear a different story.
The fantasy and mystery of Christmas are wonderful for kids when they are young. There is no better joy than to watch the excitement on their young faces. However, as they get older, the notion of Santa Claus fades and the focus becomes more on presents. If we aren’t mindful, gleeful joy and appreciation become replaced with expectation.
This should never be so.
When the true joy of selfless giving becomes replaced with selfish entitlement, there are things parents can do to reintroduce the true spirit of Christmas.
What Is the True Spirit of Christmas?
Christmas means different things to different people. For some, Christmas is a time for religious celebration. For others, it is a time of holiday celebration. People get together with family and friends to exchange presents as part of their Christmas activities. It is a time of togetherness and generosity. It is a time when we put others ahead of ourselves.
While this principle should translate to every day of the year, it doesn’t always. Most often, generosity and selflessness are something that needs to be taught and experienced to appreciate. It is only when we experience the happiness and gratitude on the faces of others that we experience true joy.
We get so caught up in the commercialism of Christmas Day that we forget to have compassion for others. Those who say money can buy happiness are wrong – it can’t, and it isn’t always the solution to every problem. Money only buys security: the ability to pay bills, invest, and have a nice life.
Other than that, money should be seen as a tool. What you do with that tool reflects on who you are as a person and your heart. The best presents – whether it’s a craft or an ornament – are not always what we receive, but the impact that we can make on others. It’s a humbling experience.
How Do You Teach Your Children That It’s Better to Give?
The simple answer is to be the example. You cannot force children to adopt an attitude of selflessness. However, you can introduce them to the concept.
Children that see their parents serve others selflessly tend to naturally adopt the same attitude. Parents have the greatest influence and impact on their kids. If they see you giving to others, they tend to unquestioningly adopt the same type of values. The best influence to have on your kids is to be the example of who you want them to be.
What Do I Do?
You can ask them to join you at a senior center or a shelter. Going to a senior’s center shows them the delight that the elderly have doing fun activities, and it can teach your kids respect. Some of the most fascinating stories and life lessons come from those who have more wisdom than we do.
Taking your children to a shelter teaches them humility. It illustrates that we should appreciate what we have because some don’t even have the basics in life. If you listen to their stories, you often hear how they once led a stable life, too. However, hardship and hard times can place even the wealthiest of individuals in dire circumstances.
Life can sometimes change in an instant. While most of us will never know what it’s like to need to be in a shelter, it provides a better perspective on life. We begin to appreciate what we have and those around us because some aren’t as fortunate.
If you want to teach your children the joy of giving back over the holiday season, incorporate the following methods:
- Cut Back on the Gifts. While the holidays are largely centered around gift-giving, you can ask your kid to donate one of their gifts to the less fortunate. You can also give a Christmas hamper to a family in need. You are often provided with a list of needs to go shopping for. Ask your children to make suggestions for gifts and to contribute.
Take them with you when you drop them off. This makes it less of an “idea” and turns it into a reality when they see the gratitude on someone else’s face.
- Visit People Who are Shut-In or Who Don’t Have Family. No one likes to be alone during Christmas. In fact, for some, it can be the loneliest time of the year. Put a smile on someone’s face with a visit. Bring them some treats or a meal. Make it a special occasion.
- Create a DIY Gift. However, instead of everyone giving a hand-crafted gift to other family members, have them donate items to a local shelter or charity.
- Bake Treats. Bakes Christmas cookies or sweets to deliver to a family in need, a nursing home, or needy school kids. You might really enjoy making my Christmas Bark recipe. Oooo or my Pretzel Hugs. Both are equally delicious!
- Have Your Children Pick Out Gifts for Others. Make a shopping list for people you need to buy for and ask your child to help pick out their gift. Ask them what this person would like and why. This draws their attention away from me to another person. Plus, young children love to be asked for their input!
For teens, you may need to do things on a larger scale to soften their hearts towards giving. This can be done by:
- Make Volunteering a Gift. Encourage your children to start small. They can volunteer for a day or be a companion to a senior citizen. They can give a gift to a senior who may not be able to spend Christmas with their family. The experience of giving to another person will change their perspective. In the end, they will feel good about what they did.
- Begin a Conversation. Watch the news together and discuss the current events dealing with unemployment, tragedies, or poverty. Permit your teen to engage and lead the discussion. Listen for areas of passion or interest on social issues. Then, foster an attitude of what they can do to initiate change- even if it is on a small scale.
- Let Them Decide on a Charity. Allow your teen to have a say in where the money goes for charity. You can narrow down a list of options or allow them to come up with one of their own. Deepen the conversation and ask them why this charity resonates with them.
- Have a Garage Sale for a Double Bonus. For places without snow, pick a weekend you tidy up the home. Designate one pile as “sell,” one as “maybe,” and the last as “keep.” Whatever ends up in the sell pile, have a garage sale to get rid of the excess. Whatever isn’t sold can be donated.
Now, here is the beauty. First, the clutter is eliminated. Children learn need over excess or want. The house will also be tidy. So, where does the selflessness come in? Put up a big sign that says all proceeds go towards charity.
Once the sale is done, take your children down to the charity and donate the money. For the items left over, take them to a donation spot like a Salvation Army, thrift store, or a shelter.
What about if you live in an area with snow? Get creative! You can always sell what you don’t need online. Again, advertise proceeds go towards charity, then follow through. You can also donate what doesn’t sell.
- Find a Charity For the Entire Family to Support. Find a charity that resonates with your family. Provide your children with a budget and place them in charge of how, collectively, the family will donate this year.
- Create a Coupon Book. This is a list of free coupons for neighbors in need. They can range from free snow removal, grass cutting, hedge snipping, help cleaning, or cooking a meal.
Other Things To Impart to Your Children
Sometimes, changes in attitude come from simple discussions. When parents chastise children for being “selfish” around the holidays, it can build an area of resentment. While the attitude may frustrate parents because it appears as if their children are ungrateful, it further adds insult to injury to hear about how unappreciative they are.
The fact remains that children, no matter what the age, expect and delight in getting gifts. They are just in that stage of their development. They may not appreciate money because they are unfamiliar with the hard work that goes into earning it. Some have no concept about the cost of things, and they depend on parents to provide for what they want.
For some, receiving gifts equates to love on a certain level. A gift makes them feel special and cared for, especially if it is something they want. The only problem is when it is done in excess or there is an expectation attached to it.
Before chastising your child for thinking about themselves, understand their developmental level. Kids at this age tend to be concerned about themselves. As they grow and mature, they begin to think about others and become a little less egocentric.
If it is an issue, discuss with them why they behave this way. You can’t change a behavior if you are unaware of the root cause. Additionally, parents can:
- Provide intentional messaging regarding appreciation, sharing, and selflessness. These need to be put in age-appropriate language and referencing for the child to understand as they mature.
As mentioned, children begin with an egocentric attitude. It is up to us, as adults, to foster an atmosphere of generosity and placing other’s needs ahead of our own. We need to teach children a language of gratitude, which may begin with a simple question each day asking what they are grateful for.
- As your children grow older, help them express how they feel when they give/receive a gift. You can also talk about how to handle a situation wherein they are disappointed with a gift or when it wasn’t what they wanted.
When receiving a gift they didn’t want, navigate them through the situation. Begin with teaching them to politely thank the individual. While most children know to do this, they do it because they are told to. However, they don’t know the why behind it.
Parents should teach their children how it feels on the other side of the equation. Someone put a great deal of effort into finding you something that they thought you would enjoy. Furthermore, they spent their money buying it for you. Thought and love went into the purchase.
While the child may feel disappointed at not receiving what they wanted and may feel like the person doesn’t really “know” them, they need to realize the good intentions behind it. Behaving like they are disappointed embarrasses the other person and makes them feel unappreciated. No one wants to give a “bad gift.”
Teach your child that even though they don’t like the gift, that appreciation of the individual is important. If they would have received nothing, they would be offended thinking the person didn’t care. However, they did go out of their way to find something they thought was special. Teach them to be grateful.
- Foster an attitude that not all children are as fortunate. This helps put things in perspective that not everyone has access to the same things. Some parents can’t afford to give their children gifts each year. Parents can experience lay-offs, closed businesses, and financial setbacks. This will foster empathy.
- As children shift from St. Nick and gifts, guide them into adopting an attitude of how they can serve others. What are they passionate about? This takes them out of a me-centered perspective and helps them begin to think about how they can make the world a better place.
Intrinsically, we all want to make a difference in this world. We all, at some level, want to be a world-changer. This first step involves thinking about what we can do as individuals to help change the narrative. While it may not be on a global scale, even small things make a big impact.
- Take your children out of getting gifts and develop family traditions. They should foster a love of family, appreciation for your surroundings, and giving. Christmas should center around fun family traditions. This bonds people together and develops unity. It also creates memories to be cherished for many years.
- Don’t abandon the “Santa” theme, just modify it. Santa has always been a symbol of selfless giving, hope, joy, and the wonder of Christmas. Redefine the narrative from one of receiving to one of giving. Teach them to be someone else’s Santa and give them hope. They will transition from getting from Santa to being Santa.
It becomes a valuable lesson. You can often watch their hearts transform by encouraging them to give to others. Even better is when it is done secretly. If your heart is right, praise won’t matter. All that will matter is someone else’s happiness.
Will it stop your child from expecting things? It may not. A toddler will still have an extensive list for Santa and wait in anticipation of his arrival. Young children will still expect presents galore. Even when they pass that believing in Santa stage, they will still want to receive something meaningful.
If we are honest, it doesn’t stop when you are an adult, either. We expect our spouse or partner to know what we want. Love is often equated with finding the perfect gift and our selfishness can prevent us from being truly grateful.
Sometimes, we need a little gratitude check-up of our own!
However, it is never too late to introduce an atmosphere of giving. Money buys temporary happiness. Yet, after all the gifts are unwrapped and enjoyed, they will break down. Eventually, they will be either replaced or discarded. However, the joy that you can give someone else is remembered long after this.
When you are on the receiving end, you never forget how it feels when someone gives you something out of the sincerity of their own heart. For some, it is a humbling experience. For others, your gift has more meaning than they can even describe.
It isn’t always about the gift, whether they received what they wanted. The joy is in receiving something, and that someone thought of them enough to lend a hand. Sometimes money is all people need over the holiday season to provide a nice Christmas for their family. For others, it’s not being alone over the holidays.
We all want to feel like we matter to someone. It’s horrible to feel forgotten. This is why gifts make people so happy. It is the love that they experience in receiving them.
Why do we experience joy when we give? It is because we know that we have positively impacted another person’s life. We will only think about our possessions for a limited amount of time. We may even really appreciate a gift or two. However, when you give to someone else who lacks, you are sewing a memory.
People will often get out of whatever situation they are currently facing. When they do, they are forever changed by the generosity of others. They come out of the situation with more compassion and empathy than ever before. They now know what it is like to be on the receiving end.
Most go on to help others in a pay-it-forward fashion. It develops a positive chain reaction in people. For those that quickly forget … well, leave them to their conscience.
Fostering an attitude of gratitude with children should happen all year long. It helps them to develop into caring, empathetic, and compassionate adults. It teaches them to think on a larger scale about what is important in life and how they, too, can change the world.
Nothing is more empowering than feeling like you can impact the lives of those around you. It feels better than your best present. However, if you never have the joy of experiencing this, you will never know how it feels.
Not teaching your children appreciation, gratitude, and helping others are doing them a disservice. The world would be a much better place if we evolved from me and mind type of mindset into you and yours.
We already have so much to be grateful for! By teaching your child to help others, you are instructing them that not everything is about them. Giving to others illustrates why they should appreciate what they already have and those around them. Not everyone is surrounded by a loving family, nor can they always afford gifts.
Giving puts things into perspective that life is bigger than just them. While it is up to the parents to provide for their children and make them happy, it is also our responsibility to teach them how to care for others. The same joy we receive in watching them open their gifts should be the same joy they experience watching others. After all, isn’t this the true spirit of Christmas?
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Also, what am I missing? I’d love to hear how you bring up the spirit of Christmas and embody it throughout the holidays? Share in the comments below!