With the holiday season upon us our thoughts and attention turn to the “giving and receiving” that seem to occupy a great deal of our lives at this time each year.

The holidays bring a wonderful opportunity for us to teach our children not only how to receive but how to give. Giving can encompass two elements:

  • The gifts we give to our children
  • The gifts we help them give to others

The gifts we give to our children are more often dictated by Corporate America than reflective of our children’s real needs or desires. The accumulation of material goods is never wholly satisfying. For children, there are often no limits to their desires. So, after the “umpteenth” trip to the mall to find the latest “must have” toy, consider giving your child the most important gift of all – the gift of yourself. Choose an activity your child enjoys, whether it is finger painting or bike riding and give him your full attention and total presence. (Yes, this does mean you put aside your cell phone!)
Being fully engaged with your child sends the message that he is worthy of your attention and is the most affirming gift you can give. It will be long remembered after that new toy or gadget is tossed aside.

Children experience great joy and satisfaction when they give to others, especially when it is something that they made themselves. Even very young children can participate in the making of gifts for siblings, relatives, friends and neighbors. Something as simple as baking, decorating and wrapping cookies can be a wonderful experience for your child. Better still, hand deliver them to the recipient.

Children have strong altruistic desires and can be very compassionate towards others when given the opportunity. Any kind of community service helps the child see the world beyond himself and his own limited experiences. Give your child opportunities to give back to the community both globally and locally.

  • Consider “adopting” a family for the holidays, providing homemade gifts and food.
  • When grocery shopping allow your child to select appropriate food items to donate to the local Food Bank.
  • For every new toy or book your child receives, suggest that he donate a used one that he has outgrown.
  • Children of all ages can write letters or draw pictures for our troops overseas.

Holiday giving is also an opportunity to enrich the family. Consider reviving long forgotten family customs or create new ones.

  • Plan a family outing to see the holiday lights
  • Go as a family to purchase the tree. Make it even more meaningful by selecting your own at a tree farm and chop it down together!

Gifts reflect your family’s values. Don’t give in to the pressures of consumerism and materialism. Show your children what’s important to you as a family. If you want or expect then to develop a love for reading, then give the gift of books. If a healthy, active outdoor life is a priority, then videos and computer activities limit these possibilities and use precious time.

And remember, all gifts gain in value when given with the gift of time spend with the adult.