Each year the day after Christmas, my children begin making their Christmas lists for the next year.
Half the presents they received this year haven't been taken out of the box yet, but my boys are already wishing for something more. It's common to hear year-round at our house, "For Christmas I want a new bike, or a new video game, or maybe a trampoline."
My children know that Christmas is a time they receive gifts. As parents, we've taught our children what to expect. They know that we also give presents during Christmastime, but I've been wondering lately if my children find joy in giving this time of year. Or, does all the joy of Christmastime for them come only in receiving?
Recently, as I was preparing to get my 5-year-old son to school, I asked him if he'd brushed his teeth yet. He told me he hadn't. I began to lecture him about how he often forgets to brush his teeth in the morning.
"Mom, I don't forget to brush my teeth. I just never knew I was supposed to brush my teeth in the morning," he said.
I was stunned. I was sure I had taught him this necessity of life. And if I hadn't, I'm sure the dentist had advised him accordingly. His older brother brushes his teeth every morning without being asked. I assumed that my 5-year-old would have acquired the same habit, but I was wrong.
It wasn't that he was being neglectful or disobedient. He simply didn't know what was expected of him.
I've realized that my children don't know what's expected of them at Christmastime, either. In our home, the focus has been much more on our children receiving gifts than it has been about giving gifts. So this year, I've put together an action plan to help teach my children that giving at Christmastime can bring just as much joy, or more, as receiving.
Teach them why and how to give.
My children are all younger than 8, so I have to use simple examples to help them. I found a great book, "The Berenstain Bears and the Joy of Giving." I figured that something as simple as reading them a book and showing how others give is a great start.
Recently, we purchased "Toy Story 3." The final tear-jerking scene, when Andy passes his toys to Bonnie, demonstrates a great lesson for children to see the joy of giving.
This shows children an example of giving. Not just giving to be charitable, but giving something away that is so precious to them in order to make someone else happy. That is the true spirit of giving. As we've watched this movie, I've taken the time to discuss these principles with my children. Teaching our children is a great start, but it's only a start.
Be good examples to our children.
As we already know, children learn from our examples. Maybe if my son saw me brushing my teeth every single morning, he would have known to do the same. (For the record, I do brush my teeth every morning — he just doesn't always see me.)
If we want our children to find joy in giving, they must see us being joyful as we give. At this young age, my children can learn from my example. They can serve right beside me and benefit by watching me give of myself by sharing my time and my talents.
Provide opportunities for children to give.
I don't mean hand them a beautifully wrapped present to give to their friends or grandparents, which I may or may not have done in the past. I'm talking about providing opportunities for them to give from start to finish.
For example, we recently talked about how we could give this holiday season and then together we made some "reindeer gift bags," which can be found at familyfun.com.
We talked about how we weren't making these for ourselves, but we were making them to give away. My children loved making this craft and then brainstorming for treat ideas to put inside. It was also fun to hear suggestions of who they thought might benefit from these goodie bags.
As adults, we serve those around us, but how often do we involve our children in this service?
My husband's office sent us a basket of goodies for the Thanksgiving holiday. Normally, I would send a thank you note and sign it from our entire family. This time, I decided to involve my children. They each wrote cards thanking the office for the delicious food they sent.
We also made dinner for one of our neighbors, and I let the children help me make the food. There are many ways that children can serve, but we have to provide the opportunities for them. They may not always be obvious to a young child.
Provide time for children to give.
Along with opportunities, we must also provide the time. We can set up a weekly or monthly time to write notes for family, friends or someone who is sick or lonely. We must also provide the time to help them deliver or address these notes.
When my husband is out of town, I encourage my boys to help out by doing "Daddy's" chores for him. I make sure to tell them that it is not their responsibility, but that they are doing service. I want my children to recognize when they are serving others.
Talk to children about how they feel when they serve and ask for input.
I want my children to recognize how they feel when giving to others — that is why it's important to talk to them about how they feel. Ask them if it makes them happy or sad. Ask them if they want to do it more often. And ask them if they have any other ideas of things they could do individually or as a family.
As we sat down as a family to discuss "giving" this time of year, my heart was filled with joy as my children presented idea after idea of things that we could do this holiday season.
Most children aren't as selfish as we think they are, and most children are filled with the desire to give. We just need to foster that desire by teaching them, being good examples, providing opportunities and time for them to give.
We need to constantly talk about service with our children, especially during the holiday season.
Brittany Jones lives in Herriman with her husband and three boys. On her blog, brittsbroadcast.blogspot.com, she loves sharing ideas about family life, organizing and decorating.