One Christmas, my father was visiting as my husband and I frantically played Santa. We'd wrapped so many presents for our five children that you couldn't even see the coffee table, never mind the floor. Dad shook his head and said, "Do the kids really need all this stuff to know you love them?" I sat back on my heels and surveyed the room. I knew the answer. The next year, I vowed, would be different -- and I'm proud to say that it really was. We cut way back on gifts and instead used the money to take a family trip: The kids had fun planning a cross-country drive to visit grandparents in Wisconsin that summer. Family holiday traditions help shape our children's ethics, yet we're so eager to make kids happy that we often lose sight of the lessons we want to teach. Here are simple ways to instill good values, not only during the hectic holidays, but for a lifetime.
Clarify What the Holidays Mean to Your Family Quiet "together" moments -- like family dinners, neighborhood walks, before-bed story time -- are the perfect opportunity to share your own traditions and spark a discussion about what the holidays represent. Talk with your children about the different ways to be generous and grateful, and let them chime in about what those words mean to them. Try this conversation starter: Have each family member talk about the last time he was generous or witnessed someone being kind.
Negotiate Limits Ahead of Time How much is enough when it comes to gifts? Discuss this as a family, and start by differentiating between "want" and "need." Then decide on the number of presents or an amount of money to spend and stick to those parameters. If your child really wants a present that's out of the range, make a deal, suggests Annie Fox, author of Teaching Kids to Be Good People. "Explain how much you're comfortable contributing toward that gift and brainstorm ways that your child can earn the rest," she says.
Don't Just Talk the Talk Modeling gratitude and generosity is the best way to teach these values. Bring your children along when you do good deeds like driving an elderly relative or neighbor to the grocery store. Even better, choose something charitable that the family can do together, such as picking out clothes and toys no longer in regular rotation and taking them to a local family center or shelter. And remember, the most important way to be generous with your own children is to give lots of love and laughter -- not boatloads of presents.
Think Outside the Gift Box Three ways to teach children to take joy in giving generously:
Choose Charities Go online together and research organizations with missions that match your family's interests. For example, if animals are your passion, donate to a local animal shelter.
Create Coupons for Family Time Vouchers for special outings to museums, movies, or football games make great stocking stuffers.
Go the Homemade Route The thought really is what counts, especially when you're giving gifts to close friends and family. Even if you're not the crafty type, there are lots of easy projects you can do with your children.