Do you wish your kids were a little less materialistic this time of year?
It seems like every December, many children come down with a bad case of the “I wants”. They are busy thinking about what’s going to be under the tree Christmas morning and doing everything they can to get it. Parents often end up running themselves ragged trying to track down that one thing their child just HAS to have. Then, just a few weeks later, it’s tossed aside when the next new thing comes along.
The holidays are a great opportunity to nurture important character traits, while still having a good time. Helping our kids become more compassionate and giving, while bonding with family and building happy memories, is a gift they can treasure for life.
Here are five ideas for reducing materialism during the holidays.
Get Kids Excited about Giving
Don’t let their childhood pass without letting your children experience the joy of making someone else happy.
In the weeks leading up to Christmas, help your child find ways to earn money, by doing chores, working for a neighbor, or babysitting. Then let them spend their own hard-earned money on someone else. Your child will have a much greater experience giving of himself than by buying something with your money.
Children can also make gifts. Teach them how to do a simple craft or make home-baked goodies. Homemade and personal gifts are always more special for the giver and the receiver.
Children can give gifts to family members, relatives, teachers, friends, neighbors, or anyone. To limit the stress, you can draw names for a gift exchange or just do something simple. One of my own daughters’ favorite traditions was getting names from an Angel Giving tree (each choosing a child near their own age) and getting things together to give them. They used their own money and more fun shopping for those gifts than anticipating their own.
When we buy and buy, our homes can start piling up with stuff. Things get forgotten and are barely used. Our cluttered homes become hard to clean, as well as distracting. So use the holidays as an excuse to unload some baggage, so to speak.
You and your child can go through their toys and clothes together. Pick out items that have been outgrown or are no longer played with but are still in good shape. Clean them up and donate them to a shelter or organization that cares for needy families. You can also donate to a thrift store or pass them down to a cousin or friend.
This will clear out some space for new things your child will be given, and it also helps others who are in need. You can explain to the kids where everything will be going and who it will help, and help them understand that other children are not as fortunate as they are. You may be surprised how generous they are about giving things up.
Many families will spend on credit to give their kids a nice Christmas. It’s estimated that nearly a third of American families will take 5 or more months to pay off their Christmas debt. Why put yourself through so much stress and hard work for just a few minutes’ excitement?
A better gift to give your child is a home that is financially secure and free from the burden of debt. They can learn that peace of mind when it comes to money is more valuable than any toy or gadget. They can learn to be thankful for a few meaningful gifts rather than always expecting and wanting something.
Some families do a “3-Gift Christmas”, symbolizing the three gifts from the wise men who came to visit the baby Jesus. They choose three different categories and pick just one gift for each child in each category.
Another great idea is the “Four Gift Rule”. This is a spin-off from the wedding day tradition for things a bride wears. With this plan, children receive only four gifts—Something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read.
In our family, we each received something with spiritual/religious significance on Christmas Eve. Then on Christmas morning, Santa would have brought just one large family gift to play with together. And then each kid had a few smaller things from Mom and Dad.
Give Experiences, Not Just Stuff
The other day, my married daughter mentioned that she barely remembers any of her Christmas or birthday gifts, but she has great memories of all our family vacations. It’s true that shiny toys lose tend to their luster all too soon. Things get broken, go out of style, or become obsolete. But memories stay with us forever.
Instead of buying that expensive new video console and adventure games, how about taking them on a real life adventure?! Plan a surprise trip somewhere, and leave Christmas evening! I knew a family that would wrap up clues to their destination, and the last gift opened would be plane tickets, revealing the surprise. Most airlines have extremely low fares for Christmas Day, and you won’t have to fight the crowds!
If a vacation is not feasible, there are many things to do close to home. You can look online at websites like Groupon for great ideas and discount coupons. Look for activities that promote family bonding.
Another option is to sign your child up for some kind of lessons they would enjoy. Maybe your daughter wants to learn how to cook or paint. Maybe your son wants to learn karate. Giving this type of experience will give your child skills that will stay with them forever.
During the holiday season, there is a never-ending supply of service opportunities available. Giving volunteer service helps kids learn compassion and work and is always a self-esteem booster. And there’s nothing like seeing someone worse off than you to help you feel gratitude for what you have!
You can take the family to a nursing home to sing Christmas carols to the residents. Visit a children’s hospital and play with the patients or even take them a small gift. Work in a soup kitchen serving holiday meals to the homeless. Or shovel snow for the older people in the neighborhood.
If you are unsure about service needs in your area, visit justserve.org and type in your zip code. You will find one-time and ongoing opportunities listed there, along with contact information.
This year, when planning your holidays, consider giving your child a much greater gift than a room full of toys. Give them a simple, yet meaningful Christmas. Help them become less materialistic and more charitable. It really is a “gift that keeps on giving”.