Teaching Your Children How to Be Generous Rather than Greedy

"But I want it!"

We have all witnessed this embarrassing holiday scene. A mother tightly holds her child's arm as she attempts to drag him from the toy section of the department store. Her son is screaming, "But I want it! You never get me anything!" In hushed tones, the mother tries to reason with her son -- with little success. His continuing demands drown her quiet pleas as she leads the boy from the store, red-faced and screaming.

Do not give in to these shouted demands from your children. However, we really cannot blame the children for wanting things at holiday time. Starting in early September and continuing all through the holidays, the commercials on television target children nine years and younger with a barrage of messages. TV is teaching your child to ask, "Can I have that for Christmas?" It is not your child's fault that he succumbs to the media's electronic brainwashing.

Give a Gift that Lasts a Lifetime

As parents, it is our responsibility to overcome that media message and teach our children the correct spirit for the holidays. Be patient with your children. Today's world focuses on material attainment. Teaching children that it is better to give than receive is a challenging task. The good news is that a child who learns the value of generosity has received a gift that lasts a lifetime.

How can we teach our children that Christmas, Hanukah, and other holiday celebrations are times for generosity, not greed?

In whatever way you define the holiday season, if you want your children to have the true holiday spirit, you need to display a good example of that spirit yourself. Model the spirit of generosity and giving that you would like to see in your children. If we want children to view the holidays as a time of giving and loving, then we must demonstrate giving and loving behavior in ways that they can recognize and understand.

One way is to engage your children in activities that demonstrate what you believe to be the true spirit of the holidays. Spending the holidays serving meals at a homeless shelter, donating canned goods to a food drive, and visiting the elderly in a nursing home are all ways to show your children that giving is what the holiday season is about. (See below for more ways to teach your children about sharing during the holidays.)

Of course, your children will also receive during this season, so it's important to help them to learn to receive graciously, too. Teach the traditional reasons why we exchange gifts during the holidays.

Be Realistic

Explain what is realistic for them to expect under the tree on Christmas morning. Let your children look at the colored advertisements that come in the Sunday newspaper. Suggest that they circle one or two things that they would like Santa to bring. Have them do it for several weeks, then collect the flyers and ask them to narrow their choices to one large and one small item -- whatever is appropriate for the family budget. In this way, you entertain the fact that they are interested in many things. You encourage them to use their imaginations, and you teach them about limits. For older children, it is reasonable to tell them what dollar amount you plan to spend and let them choose within that budget.

This is the perfect time of year for children to go through their toy boxes to select things they don't use anymore. Ask your child to choose one or two toys that are still in good condition to donate to a shelter or even buy a new toy for a toy drive. Parents can explain that they will soon be receiving new toys, and it feels good to share toys with children who might not have many.

It will be difficult to maintain the holiday aura of loving generosity if you allow yourself to become stressed about gift giving or become involved in arguments about trivial matters. Avoid unnecessary arguments about such things as who is going to cook the holiday feast. By modeling the spirit of the holidays at all times -- being joyful, generous and loving -- you are modeling those behaviors for your children.

Finally, when planning how you will be generous during your holidays, don't give the impression that your children should limit their activities to the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year's. Show them the "holiday" spirit all year long. Those in need require hope, encouragement, and good thoughts all through the year.

12 Ways to Teach About Sharing

  • Ask your children to select extra groceries to place in the food boxes for the needy at the store.

  • Donate a turkey to a homeless shelter.

  • Visit a nursing home to sing carols.

  • Ask your children to help you wrap presents for those outside the family, so that they can learn that you believe in giving to others.

  • Invite people who are away from their families to share your holiday meal and traditions.

  • Encourage your children to call Grandma and Grandpa -- just to say, "I love you."

  • Adopt someone into your family who doesn't have any family.

  • Dress up like Christmas clowns and visit the children who are in the hospital.

  • Make sure your children send out thank you cards for gifts, parties, long-distance calls, and any small kindness.

  • Choose the name of a child from a gift tree at your office (perhaps a child close in age to your children) and ask your children to shop for a gift for that child.

  • Before your holiday dinner, hold hands and have each person tell something for which they are thankful.

  • Read the Christmas story together, to be mindful of the true meaning of Christmas.