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I open the door.
In comes the treasured guest.
In her hands are her gifts
the gift of time and far-seeing moments,
the gift of nourishment and wisdom,
the gift of caring and knowledge,
the gift of change and self.
She must have searched her soul for gifts as precious as these.

The holiday season is again upon us. When you ask your kids about the holidays they may automatically think of receiving gifts. So how do we teach the spirit of giving? For many of us parents, we start to think of how we can provide the gifts that meet our child’s expectations this year. We might even exceed our budgets to meet these expectations, which can leave us feeling overwhelmed.

If you feel some of these pressures and feel yourself drifting from the spirit of giving, we have a few suggestions for this season and throughout the year.

First, in honesty, it is developmentally appropriate for children and adolescents to be egocentric in their thinking. At the same time, at any age, children can give generously and genuinely. So, of course our children will tell us what they want for the holidays and asking for it is understandable. We all have needs and wants and having the ability to verbalize them is very important. The balancing act for your family is identifying what is reasonable to expect when it comes to material items. As parents, we have the ability to set the tone and limits of expectations this year. Just know that what your family decides may differ from other families and your children are very likely to make comparisons. However, knowing what feels right for your family is most important.

So what about giving? Can you think of a time that you gave something to someone and you could see how much it meant to that person? Those are great stories to share with your children. Also, reminding your children of a time when they made something just for you and how much that meant/means to you will help personalize the meaning of giving. A beautiful story to share with your children of any age is “The Gift of the Magi” by Henry O (pen name for William Sydney Porter), which was written back in 1906. This timeless classic talks about the act of giving through unselfish love. There is also, “The Giving Tree”, by Shel Silverstein, which brings up great points of conversation around giving and receiving. These are great ways to start conversations in your family.
Look at your own family and see if this is the case. Pay attention and observe how your children take care of their toys. Be mindful of how easily your children ask for things and expect to receive them. Do you find yourself giving in when your child throws a tantrum at the store just to spare yourself the embarrassment?There are many debates out there as to how today’s parents focus on how much they will spend on getting their kids the latest gadgets and/or toys even if it means increasing your debt or spending beyond your means. Many people complain that we are bringing up a generation of “Gimmies” or children with a strong sense of entitlement focused on getting instant gratification.

Transitions in Motherhood invites you to create new traditions about giving in your family this holiday season. You can focus on giving within your family and within your community. Here are a few ideas that you can implement that will help your children understand the concept of giving and giving back.

Within your family

1. At dinner, acknowledge an act of kindness that someone in the family shared that you identify as a gift to your family (opening the door, bringing in the groceries, etc.).

2. Create a little tree that you can place in your home where you can write down acts of kindness/giving and hang the writings on the tree to acknowledge these gifts.

3. Engage your family in recycling cans and bottles to purchase a family gift instead of buying individual gifts.

4. Completing a family project that benefits your family or home. Like the phrase “charity starts at home”. Such as cleaning your yard together, washing the family car, cleaning the garage, etc.

5. Share with your family the things you are grateful for (non-material).

Within your community

1. Ask your children if they see a need in the community that they can help with. The more the act is self-driven the better.

2. Have your children go through their toys and clothes and see what they are no longer using and have them donate some things to their nearest shelter. Reading a little bit about the local charity and what they do before you make your donation can help bring further understanding. Even writing a short note to go with the donation can help personalize the experience.

3. Have your children/family work together and clean a neighbor’s yard.

4. Bake cookies as a family and donate them to a local convalescent home.

5. Perform a dance or song at a convalescent home.

Taking time to reflect as a family on the experience can help put words and further understanding towards the many ways giving can look like.

Happy Holidays from Transitions in Motherhood, supporting you every step of the way.

Emma and Tara are co-founders of Transitions in Motherhood, an organization dedicated in helping families, especially mothers, and their mental health.

Emma Santizo, LCSW

Transitions in Motherhood
Motherhood Balance
Read more about Emma here

Tara Farajian, LCSW

Transitions in Motherhood
Motherhood Balance
Read more about Tara here