"Hey mom, I saw the coolest paint gun on TV!" our son John, then about 11 years old, excitedly said. "That's what I want for Christmas! All the other guys are asking for it, and their parents are probably getting it for them, too. I just have to have one!"
It was two days before Christmas, and I'd already finished my shopping and overspent my budget. I was exhausted by my five kids' endless lists of "have to haves"!
This season of giving too often becomes the season of "gimme." So how can we raise kids to be "givers" instead of "getters"? Here are six quick tips.
1. Recognize that giving's more than a seasonal issue.
While the attack of the "gimmes" is most blatant at Christmas, it's what we do during the other 11 months of the year that determines the focus of our holidays. As the season approaches, take note of your family conversations. Observe what issues crop up that encourage materialism or self-gratification. Write down what you do right and what changes you'll make for next year. The best time to plan for next Christmas is this year.
Why not try what I call a "3-star" plan? Here's how it works: First, each family member determines that every day they'll compliment or en courage someone at school, in the office, or in the neighborhood. Second, each family member performs an act of service for someone else each week. Maybe it's doing a sibling's chore or running another person's errand. Third, every month your family does something surprising for somebody else, such as baking a cake for a neighbor, or taking flowers to a friend simply to say you care.
2. Guard against peer pressure.
Believe it or not, parents fall prey to a type of peer pressure that says, I have to give my kids what my friends are giving theirs.
No one wants their kids to be disappointed because they aren't getting what their friends get. And no parent wants to feel left out of an adult peer group because she isn't doing the same things her friends are. But remember, you have to do what's right for your kids.
Talk about this pressure with your family, then set realistic expectations for what gifts your children will give and receive. When my five children hit their teen years, we began drawing names so that each child gave a nice gift to only one sibling. This helped limit the number of gifts, reduced expenses, and allowed for a more thoughtful gift for one person.
Above all, when it comes to limiting gift-giving, avoid saying, "We're poor." Material wealth isn't the issue; stewardship and keeping your focus on Jesus are the issues.
3. Plan ahead.
Before the season gets into full swing, take time in November to decide to whom you'll give gifts. Set a deadline by which to complete your shopping. Determine to stay out of stores after your cut-off date. It's too easy to think of one more gift for one more person. And especially be alert to media pressure! One family decided to ban giving any gift advertised on TV. Also, block off family times on your calendar now.
I have a present drawer in my laundry room. I notice bargains throughout the year and buy ahead for birthdays, weddings, and Christmas. The kids and I put gifts we receive but don't need in to this drawer, and they are available for recycling to others. As this busy season approaches, look at your gift list and your calendar, and "hit the delete key" as much as you can. It'll enable you to enjoy the season—not merely survive it.
4. Give creative gifts.
We don't have to spend money on gifts in order for them to be valuable. Often the most precious gifts don't cost money. Last year my daughters Susy and Libby gave their big sister Allison—who has two toddlers— a complete day of housecleaning. What a wonderful gift!
My 16-year-old niece, Ann, gave her mom and dad a Christmas ornament with the name "Shantilla" on it. Completely surprised, my sister said, "What's this?"
"I gave a Christmas box of presents to this needy child, Shantilla, in your name, so her ornament's for you!" Ann replied. This gift is one of my sister's most prized possessions because it illustrates her teen's generosity.
5. Focus on Jesus.
Not only do we need to pare down our gift lists and calendars, but we need to expand on what really matters—Jesus' birth. There are many books available at your local Christian bookstore, such as Ann Hibbard's Family Celebrations at Christmas. These books will help your family prepare for Advent, the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas that celebrate Christ's arrival. Offset the focus on "things" by planning activities that put the emphasis on Jesus' coming instead.
6. Nurture an attitude of gratitude.
Let's face it, we enjoy being joyful! But being joyful doesn't depend on our possessions or circumstances. The apostle Paul tells us joy is a fruit of the Spirit, the result of abiding in Christ (Galatians 5:22). So take time regularly as a family to pray prayers of thanksgiving. Spend one or two minutes taking turns at break fast or dinner to say something for which you're thankful. Make a specific attempt to talk with your children about how fortunate you are, and why.
This year we spent time in Kenya with our daughters Susy and Libby, who were there on a short-term missions trip. One night we stayed with dear African friends, Bishop Julius and his wife, Nellie. Although by American standards they have little, their hearts are full of gratitude. As I awoke in the morning, Nellie greeted me.
"Susan," she said, "A miracle happened this morning!"
"What?" I replied with excitement.
"I woke up!" she simply responded. "Don't you know that when you go to bed and wake up in the morning, that's a miracle of God?"
What a heart of gratitude! How I long that my kids and I have that same kind of spirit—especially at Christmas!
Susan Alexander Yates is the author of numerous books, including Character Matters!: Raising Kids With Values That Last, And Then I Had Teenagers, and And Then I Had Kids.
Copyright © 2000 by the author or Christianity Today/Today's Christian Woman magazine.
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