Shifting the Holiday "Gimmes" to a Focus on Giving

I originally wrote this article when my daughter was in middle school.  She is now in her second year of college and she has a weekend job.  I love seeing her buy presents for her friends, give a friend a ride, and in other ways show up with a giving heart.  Enjoy!

Her pirate costume was still hanging on the back of the chair following a night of trick-or-treating when my daughter made her first holiday request.  “Can I have a Wii for Christmas?”  The seasonal television commercials aimed at the juvenile market hadn’t even begun.  I hadn’t seen a single Chia Pet.  Although it was not the beginning of the holiday season, it was the beginning of an internal dialogue about the holiday “gimmes”. 

Wants and desires are wonderful.  I want my daughter to know that she can get what she wants and that she can ask for what she wants.  I also want her to understand the value of work and the feel of responsibility.  I want her to be what Karen Deerwester calls “entitlement-free”.  In her book The Entitlement-Free Child: Raising Confident and Responsible Kids in a "Me, Mine, Now!" Culture, Karen states that entitlement-free children know “that ownership has responsibility and possessions have value.” 

If you would like to shift the holiday “gimmes”, here are a few fun ways to do it.

First of all, make it a conversation.  When you hear his request, rather than stopping the discussion with a response such as “That is too expensive” or “We can’t afford that”, make it the beginning of a meaningful conversation.  Discuss how he plans to use the product, the monetary value of the product, and how he can earn the money to purchase the product himself or share in the purchase costs if it is more than you are willing to spend.  For example, you can begin by asking, “A Wii sounds fun.  What games would you most like to play on it?  That would be lots of fun to do that together.  How much does a Wii cost?  How many weeks of allowance is that?  I am willing to contribute X amount to purchasing the Wii.  How can you come up with the rest of the money?”  His desires and wants then become a pathway to learning.  He can walk away with the message that he can gain the things that he wants by providing an exchange (money, effort, energy) to purchase them.  If it is something you are willing to give as a gift, the discussion will leave you confident that the gift will be meaningful.

Secondly, shift the focus to giving.  You can accomplish this by having your child create a list of gifts that he is giving to others, having your family construct a holiday calendar that includes “giving activities” on each day of the month, and finding ways to be in service to others.

Create a Giving List

For a young child, around age seven or eight, his giving list can include gifts for mom, dad, siblings and even pets.  As your child gets older, his list can grow annually to include grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, teachers and friends. 

In making gift choices, emphasize that it is not the cost or size of the gift but the expression of your child’s love that matters most.  Spend time talking about what the recipient enjoys so that the gift can be thoughtful and appropriate.  Include gifts that he can make.  A drawing, beaded necklace, poem, woven potholder, or photograph taken by your child will be treasured.  Cards which say “This Entitles You to One Back Rub” or “I Will Clean the Dinner Table” make terrific gifts that cost nothing.

Create a Holiday Calendar

A second way to shift the focus to giving is to create a holiday calendar that includes acts of giving on each day.  Your entire family can invent the “giving activities” which could be “Today I will carry something for someone”, “Today I will do something that contributes to my school” or “Today I will do two random acts of kindness.”   Each morning, read that day’s “giving activity”.  That day, everyone is to find a way to put the activity into action.  Each evening, discuss how the activities took place for each member of the family.  The opportunities for each giving activity will present themselves in unexpected ways, and children will enjoy the adventure.  The shift will change from “Why do I have to do this?” to “You won’t believe what I got to do today!”  

Be In Service

A third way to shift the focus to giving is to schedule times during the holidays for your family to be in service to others.  Volunteer at a nursing home, hospital, or animal shelter.  Sing to the elderly.  Make cards to give to children confined in the hospital.  Take a huge box of dog biscuits to the animal shelter.  Participate in United Through Reading© . Simply talk or read to someone.

I wish you all the best in making the shift from Wii to WE as you enter the holiday season!