Ask any normal red-blooded kid what he looks forward to most about Christmas and he will unabashedly state, “the presents!” (and stop just short of adding “duh!”) Children aren’t selfish, per se; they like getting presents and have been taught to expect things. So before you say a child is spoiled or selfish, look to home. Because parents talk big about the importance of giving over receiving and they overspend, overindulge and over-gift children. This reinforces to kids that getting is the essence of Christmas. Need ideas to teach children holiday generosity and unselfishness? The best medicine for the greedy, green-eyed gimmes is giving. Here are pay-it-forward activities.
Purge toys. Advent is the Christian season of penance before Christmas (kind of like Lent before Easter). Catholics spend (or should spend) those four weeks leading up to Christmas in service and preparation. To teach awareness of global poverty, compared to a child’s own prosperity. Purge toy cupboards and donated gently-used items. Before Christmas, assign to collect X-number of toys to weed out. A good ratio is to donate one old for every new one they’ll get. This keeps them from getting too greedy and possessive. Make a family event of bringing the toys to a rescue mission, homeless shelter, church or mission. Not only does this teach children unselfishness, it reduces clutter in your home.
Teach genuine generosity and unselfishness. Many times, the toys children find to donate are broken. Kids should not be allowed to give away their junk thinking they’re doing a good deed. That’s not sharing, it’s unloading trash. Remind them that nobody wants someone else’s worthless castoffs for Christmas (or at any time). It’s greedy, degrading and negates the value of giving. Real gifts cost the giver something. Most parents have gone without so that they have money to give their children things. Giving should hurt a little. Teach kids that just as parents sacrifice for their children, children should give sacrificially too.
Teach solidarity. Before giving any toy, even a new one, ask kids what things they would like to receive. Encourage them to put themselves in the receiving child’s shoes. Give toys for kids in your children’s age groups. Buy gifts in multiples: if you’re giving your daughter a doll, give a similar one for a same-age girl. Allow kids to choose presents for toy drives or church donations. Children should put as much thought into what they give as they do in what they give. They learn shopping skills, money math, generosity, unselfishness and empathy.
Encourage donations of money and time. Children should volunteer their efforts. That’s giving too. Encourage them to choose one act of service for every holiday giving event they attend. If kids receive allowances, they should not to be greedy and keep it all for themselves. They should contribute some of it. This can start a life-long tradition of generosity. This author’s oldest daughter began donating to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital in kindergarten. The class did math problems in a school “math-a-thon” to raise money. 22 years later, she still supports the organization. Another child makes it a point to put cash in each Salvation Army bucket he sees. That habit began when he was two and was given money for the collection.
Host a Santa’s toy shop and collect secondhand, recycled, refurbished toys. There is no shame in giving secondhand toys to kids in need, if you also gave your own children secondhand presents. It’s a great way to save money plus it teaches children to “make it do, use it up, wear it out, make it last.” So host a toy fix-up workshop. Before donating toys, make sure they are clean and in working order. Teach children how to repair broken parts, replace batteries and made sure all toys are properly assembled and in good working order. If toys are missing boxes, put parts in a zippered bag and write out instructions for use. Encourage unselfishness by modeling. Lead by example in sharing, caring and generosity.