Christmas brings an immense amount of anticipation to some of us, especially those of us with younger kids. For others it can be overwhelming, a disappointment or kick off a sense of loneliness. So, how do we make Christmas joyful and meaningful no matter where we find ourselves?
Believe it or not the answer can be found by focusing on giving outside the family, sharing within the family, gratefulness and the relationships within your home. Whether we’re excited about Christmas, concerned about how we get our kids to understand the true meaning of Christmas or find ourselves let down or disappointed by Christmas, building a sense of giving, sharing, and gratefulness can really change the emotional outcome of the season.
In this blog series we will talk about why these three things will alter our joy during Christmas and how we can build a culture of giving, sharing, gratefulness and most importantly love in our homes.
(This series is also available as a podcast click here to listen)
How Do We Have an Enjoyable, Meaningful Christmas?
A Meaningful Christmas was the brainchild of Jeff Simon, one of our board members at Revive Family. This was on his heart because of things he has encountered with his family this year.
Considering this series got me to stop and think about what leads to a meaningful Christmas. Is it the joy of Jesus birth and really understanding what that means? Is it the gifts? Is it time with friends and family? What is it that makes Christmas meaningful?
This led me to thinking about the Christmases that stood out in the past. One of those was when my grandparents came to live with us when I was a kid. My grandfather was dying of cancer and was told he had three months left to live. That Christmas brought our family together in ways I hadn’t seen before. The sense that life was both short and a blessing and wanting to make it special for my grandfather engaged my sister and I more significantly with that Christmas. As I consider why, I believe it was giving to others and the gratefulness that developed that drew us closer together and made it meaningful.
A Sense of Giving, Sharing, Caring and Love
That Christmas sticks out because there was more giving, more sharing, more care, more concern. I wasn’t just focused on myself. That’s why in this session I’m talking about building a different attitude or character into our families. Giving, sharing and gratefulness enhance relationships and are proven to significantly impact our emotional well-being, outlook, and even our health.
Over time we’ve developed a character of giving within our home and we’ve worked on developing it for those outside our house especially as we encounter struggling families. Our kids love to give gifts at Christmas. They work during the year, save their money, and at the end of the year they put a lot of thought and time into buying special gifts for family members including their aunt, uncle, and grandparents. I think they developed this because we modeled taking time and being creative with the gifts we gave and they saw the joy it brought to those who received the gifts. I believe my kids enjoy giving gifts as much, if not more, than getting them. If you want to build this into your kids, sit down with them before taking them shopping. Ask them questions like, “What does your brother or sister really like?” or “What will make them feel special? “
By age eight Eric, our youngest, really enjoyed shopping and finding meaningful gifts. When we contemplated not going shopping as a family on Black Friday, Eric protested the loudest. He sees it as a special and fun day as the family finds gifts and keeps them secret.
As I pondered having a meaningful Christmas, I dug into some of the facts and research around giving. It was fascinating. Researchers at the University of Notre Dame reviewed 500 studies related to giving. They found that giving was more common among people who were religious. People of faith, who have something outside themselves to be grateful for, are more giving.
Giving Leads to Personal Satisfaction with Our Lives!
More interesting was that there is solid evidence that givers experience a lot of significant benefit. A study done by the Women’s Philanthropy Institute found that giving positively related to life satisfaction. The more people gave as a percentage of their household income, the more satisfaction they felt. I have seen something similar with my kids! They feel better about themselves when they sacrifice their own money and give a thoughtful gift. It is essential to help our kids discover this truth intrinsically by helping them do it. They pay much more attention to what we do and what we do with them than to what we tell them to do.
One way we fostered their giving was by having them work outside our home and save some of their earnings. This year when we went shopping on black Friday, we went as a giant family: my oldest married daughter, my sister, my mom, my three other kids, my wife, and myself. My 11 year- old son had saved $250 to spend on Christmas gifts and he spent it all. He came home feeling really good, happy, and pleased with all he had found.
Another way to develop a giving spirit or character in your home was found by the University of Buffalo. They conducted a longitudinal study and found that people engaged in helping behaviors with their neighbors and friends such as running errands, cooking meals, or providing childcare, had a reduced mortality rate compared to those who did not engage in helping others. They lived longer because they were giving of their own time and talents to their neighbors and friends.
In another study, a science journal found that donating to a charity actually activates neural activity in the areas of the brain that are linked to reward processing, the same areas that are activated by pleasures like eating and yes, even sex. So giving really does have a lot of very real uplifting effects not only within us, but within our family culture. When we become a giving family, we are more generous with our time, talents, and resources with other family members.
Teaching Sharing to Our Kids!
For those of us with younger kids, we often find ourselves in the middle trying to get our kids to share their toys with each other. It can be calm, frustrating, or it can become a battle of wills. This is why I looked into the research related to kids’ sharing their toys. What I discovered was really interesting and helpful.
Telling your kids to share and forcing them to give their toy to the other child didn’t lead to a spirit of sharing and more sharing in the future. In fact, forced sharing almost had the opposite effect. Giving preschoolers a choice related to sharing actually led to an increase in sharing behavior. Just like I’ve found in my research with older kids, giving preschoolers a difficult choice, one they could decide themselves, allowed them to see themselves in a new, more beneficial light. Choosing made them more likely to act in a sharing manner in the future.
Apparently when kids make difficult choices of their own, they infer something really significant about themselves. They discover that they can be sacrificial, they can share and sharing actually makes them feel good about themselves. They discover that making difficult choices is not negative but is intrinsically positive. They begin to see themselves in a more responsible, caring, sharing, positive light. Following are some things we found that really helped with sharing in our home.
Give your kids a real decision that empowers them to become compassionate problem solvers.
When one of the kids comes running in and says, Jill took something from me, or Hayden won’t share their toy, help them hear each other’s feelings rather than getting upset, coming in and issuing an edict, Help them share their feelings with you in front of the other child. Because kids are so emotional, they tend to really respond when they understand how their siblings feel. Often, it will change their heart. It also helps change their response and the way they handle things in the future. Sometimes we need to step in and guide them suggesting different ways to solve the sharing of a specific toy they both want to play with yet leaving the decision in their hands.
What if they make a bad decision?
You may ask, what do you do if they make a bad decision? If one of the two makes a bad decision, then I would ask the other child how that is making them feel. Then leave it with the child who made the bad decision and circle back with them later. It may be good to spend a few minutes with child that’s feeling hurt by the bad decision. Do something with them or read to them, whatever might help them disconnect from the item. When you circle back, talk with the child that made the bad decision and ask questions like “Did you feel better about yourself or worse about yourself after you made that decision?’
I’ve found this to be incredibly powerful in all four of my kids’ lives.
It’s really important that when these issues arise, we see them as an incredible opportunity. It is a time when we can help our kids share and understand others’ feelings as well as time when they can learn to make better decisions. We need to see this as discipleship, training the hearts of our kids to respond in gracious, loving, sharing ways.
We need to ask ourselves, “Do we approach issues positively as a training, teaching time or do we approach it negatively as a time to criticize or punish?” How we view the situation, our perspective, will make or break the building of kids who share freely and find it to be something that helps them see themselves in a more positive light.
Gratitude leads to positivity and health
This brings us to the third topic of gratitude. The research into gratitude is absolutely amazing. Robert Emmons of the University of California and Michael McCullough of the University of Miami, did a fascinating study where they had people over a 10 week period write a few sentences each week focusing on particular topics related to gratefulness and gratitude. They had another control group writing on something else. After 10 weeks those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. So if you’re one of those people that really struggle around the holidays this might be something to try. Do I recommend requiring your kids to do this? No. When we begin to be positive and exude gratitude, it will rub off on our kids.
In fact, having an attitude of gratitude is proven to decrease stress and increase both mental as well as physical health. Gratitude is one of the most important things we can teach our kids because it leads to a more positive outlook on life, of others and most significantly ourselves.
Gratitude is something we can help build into our kids’ lives by praying with them. When we show that we’re grateful for the things we have, or even the struggles we have in prayer and seek God to intervene on our behalf and then point out answers to prayers, it makes our kids grateful. If they know we’re grateful for salvation, we’re grateful for forgiveness, and we’re grateful for them in spite of their imperfections, It leads to amazing results. Through prayer, we really can help our kids develop a grateful spirit. We can help them be grateful for life, their friends, even school as well as help them develop a positive attitude about their future.
To help our kids reach this point we may need to work on our own hearts first. We must develop an attitude of gratitude within and show that gratitude to others and specifically in our prayers to God.
As we think about experiencing a Meaningful Christmas this year what could be better than to have our days blessed through our giving, sharing and expressing gratitude, which will draw us closer together. When we are experiencing love, when we are experiencing true fellowship, and when we are enjoying each other, that’s when our Christmas will become more meaningful.
Have a Grateful Week!
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