"You know we can't afford to spend that much on toys!"
"If you don't behave, Santa won't bring you anything!"
"Yes, you have to kiss uncle Jake. He always brings you Chanukah gelt."
"Hey kids, ask your parents to buy you a ______."
Does any of this sound familiar? Too often these are the conversations of the holiday season. This is probably the most stressful time of the year, and our children do not escape the stress. In spite of our best intentions, our children may end up feeling overstimulated, upset, demanding, and disappointed. Whether you are rich or poor, whether you choose to believe in a particular religion or not, and whatever your racial or ethnic identity, your children will be bombarded by the most commercial and greedy aspects of the season. With advertisements blaring out of every TV, Santas on every corner, and decorations in every mall, it's impossible to avoid. Yet the message of this season, no matter what your belief, should be that kindness, respect, and compassion prevail over greed. How do we get that message across to little children when our larger culture is selling them selfishness?
Setting the Example
While our children are young, we are still their greatest influence. One of our most important parental responsibilities is setting an example and being the person we want our child to be. Children watch us constantly and closely. To them, actions speak louder than any words. Children see how we treat relatives, friends, and strangers. When your child sees you perform an act of kindness without expecting a reward or when you forgive with compassion, he learns about altruism, defined as unselfish concern for the welfare of others. When you treat others with respect, as you would like to be treated, your child will follow.
The Spirit of Giving
The holidays can be a time to renew you family's commitment to life and humankind. Don't let it boil down to money, shopping, competing with relatives, partying, overeating, overdrinking, and making demands. Sharing is part of every belief system so during the holidays, counteract some of the greed by involving even the youngest child in sharing with others. If you can, "adopt" a child or a family, donate to a food bank, or take your child to buy toys to give away. If you can't give things, give time.
Take your child to visit someone who is lonely, help clean up or repair something for someone who is disabled, or play with a child who needs a friend. Your personal involvement will impress your child more than seeing you write a check. You can also nurture altruism by giving your child age-appropriate chores in your home, asking for her input into family decisions, and role-playing by putting yourself in someone else's shoes. Ask, "I wonder how Susy might feel?" or "What can we do to make Billy feel better?"
Eleanor Reynolds is the editor of The Best of the Problem-Solver: Articles for Parents and Teachers and the author of Guiding Young Children: A Problem-Solving Approach. She can be reached by email at email@example.com.