This is a classic essay written some years ago by our dear friend, Kathryn Kvols. It is timeless and applicable regardless, whether you celebrate Christman, Hannukah, or any other holiday where it is customary to give children gifts, including their birthdays.
By Kathryn Kvols
“Mom, will you buy me a Play Station II for Christmas?” asks Josh.
“No honey, we can’t afford it this year,” replies mom.
“But mom, ALL of my friends have one!” begs Josh.
“You’re exaggerating! Not ALL of your friends have one. And I told you…we can’t afford it.”
“That’s it! I’ve had enough! You should be grateful for the things we give you. Mention it again and you won’t get any presents!” threatens Mom.
Josh flops down on the couch discouraged.
Sound familiar? Christmastime, a time meant for joy and sharing, can become a war of the wills with strife and hard feelings. We all desire closeness and meaning in our relationships, especially at this time. However, in the above example, Mom unwittingly squelched her son’s excitement and made him feel bad for asking for what he wanted. Though we may not be able or willing to buy a Play Station II for our child, it is essential that we handle our children’s requests with consideration. We need to find ways to say “no” to our children without undermining their self-esteem.
Here are some tips that may be helpful this holiday season:
- Set clear limits in a friendly tone. For example, say, “It looks like you really want that game. I’m unwilling to spend my money that way. I’ll support you if you would like to save for it.” Avoid telling your child you can’t afford something. This conveys a scarcity mentality without teaching the value of money.
- Teach children the value of earning money by saying, “If you really want that toy, I would be happy to discuss some ways you can earn enough money to buy it.” This teaches children perseverance while motivating them to find innovative ways to achieve goals for themselves. Instead of giving up, the child discovers an opportunity to prove they are capable which enhances their self-esteem. No matter what the child decides, you have conveyed the message that you care about what’s important to him. One way to “invest” in our relationships without spending money is to value what’s important to each other.
- Empathize with your child: “I can see why you’d want that toy. It can do many clever things.” Sometimes children are satisfied with you siding with them instead of fighting with them.
- Once you say “no,” stick to it! Do not get into a debate or argument. You may need to repeat yourself once but then change the subject or if you need to, leave the room.
- Encourage children to give you choices. Surprises are fun for everyone so ask your children to make a Christmas list. Tell the child he can put the Play Station on their Christmas list. This helps to dissipate the “heat of the moment.” (Make sure they know that they will not get everything on their list.)
- Emphasize the joy of giving. Find a family service project to do together such as reading to “shut-ins,” picking up trash, or making cookies as a family project and giving them to neighbors. Then ask your children how they feel in their heart after they have given a gift or done something for someone. This helps children get in touch with the good feeling that comes from giving of oneself.
- Model giving and discuss how it feels. Throughout the year share with your child how good it feels to you when you give. Your giving does not have to be something big. It could be a smile, a kind word, an encouragement offered, a flower or a card. Children learn more from our modeling than they do from our words.
- Teach children the importance of gratitude. All too often our children sit in a pile of toys surrounded by a heap of tattered Christmas paper searching for their next gift. This attitude can grate on even the most loving parent. One way to encourage gratitude is to start a family tradition which cultivates gratitude through practice. For example, make a daily habit of saying what each person is thankful for before bedtime. Challenge everyone to think of different things each night.
Another way to foster gratitude is to write thank you notes or make thank you cards as a family for all the people who gave of their hearts.
- Do an encouragement feast with your family on Christmas. Here’s what an encouragement feast looks like. Everyone gets in a circle and chooses someone to be “it.” The rest of the family takes turns and says, “What I love about you is…” Then the person that’s “it” says what he/she loves about his/herself and chooses the next person to be “it.” Make sure everyone in the family has a turn to be appreciated. This is a very powerful exercise and you may want to be ready with a tissue box. This is also great to do if tension gets high, which frequently happens at Christmas. (You may need to teach children the difference between encouraging statements versus discouraging statements.)
- Encouragement Christmas feast variation, Give each family member a piece of white parchment paper for every person in the family except themselves at least a week before Christmas. Have them write love notes to each person. Write the person’s name that is to receive the scroll on the outside edge of the paper. Roll the paper and tie a ribbon around each scroll. Then place them on your Christmas tree. On Christmas, pass them out to each other, and read them. Or help your youngest child feel valuable by asking her or him to pass them out. Do not be surprised if opening presents seems anticlimactic!
Christmastime is a time for joy and sharing. Activities such as the examples mentioned above are the glue that bonds families together. They create closeness, fun, and sometimes opportunities to resolve conflicts … including the “Christmas Gimmies!”
Kathryn Kvols is the mother and stepmother of five children. She is the author of the book “Redirecting Children’s Behavior” and the accompanying course. She is also the president and an international speaker for the International Network for Children and Families. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the website at www.incaf.com