Long lines and white elephant gifts are bi-products of the Christmas season for many adults. Regrettably, the bi-product of the Christmas season for our children is selfishness. While giving is encouraged this time of the year, our children often only remember the receiving, and that creates a selfish heart. The gift-giving children do is usually orchestrated by parents and doesn't always come from the child's heart.
We need to help our children learn to give for the joy of giving. Serving together as a family is a great way to counter the selfishness of the holidays for kids. Here's a four-step plan for this holiday season that starts at home-- within the family-- and moves to serving others outside the home:
Step 1. Help each child in your family plan a service activity for someone else. Start in early December so that by Christmas, you'll have plenty of chances to practice the giving spirit and counter the spirit of selfishness. Here are three tips for working with a child to make this happen:
1. - Encourage your child to observe** a sibling for a day or two to come up with a way to honor that sibling (or if there are no siblings, your child can plan a surprise for the other parent or close family member.) Observing is an important part of giving. The observer learns what the recipient might like to get. Ask observational questions as you meet with your child, like "What did your brother play with today? What made your dad happy today?"
Don't skip the observing step. This is a foundational way for children to begin to empathize and become 'other' minded. We often don't take time to study others and their needs. You'll have to help a young child talk about what is observed.
2. - The child should determine the particular act of service. Parents can list options, but make sure the child picks. This increases the commitment level. As a child picks a service, help them make that service realistic. In other words, don't let a child plan to do his brother's chores for two weeks. One day or specific chores will be more manageable.
3. - Help the child consider logistics, materials needed, and timing. For example, if a child wants to do a sibling's chores for a day, help them pick which day along with the way to announce their plan to the sibling. For example, they could write a note to their sibling starting with "I noticed that you __________ (wanted more time to play your video game) so I'm going to __________ (make up your bed) for you tomorrow."
Step 2. Support your child's service plan by shielding his/her schedule on the planned date. You may have to say no to some other activities to make the service plan happen. You want this to be a successful service activity with minimal pain for the server. You're building a heart that desires to serve others, so for this first event, a problem-free activity helps.
Step 3. Have a celebration dinner soon after and discuss the service project. Focus not on the delight or appreciation shown by the recipient (there may not be much.) Focus instead on the inner fulfillment that each of us has when we serve others. Remind your child that God gives to all, even those who don't appreciate Him (Matthew 6:45).
Step 4. Take the same approach leading your whole family to do a service project for a neighbor. Be sure to go through the same steps – observe, plan, do, then celebrate- over the Christmas break. Remember, this is to be a group project focused on others outside your family. Be sure every member of the family gets to contribute.
Jesus is the reason we celebrate Christmas, and He came to serve. Let's celebrate His birth by serving in His honor.