Thoughts on Compassionate Gift Giving for Kids

Trying to balance the abundance of the season with your desire to raise thriving, compassionate kids? Me too-and it’s probably one of the most difficult things I try to do. The Christmas season can be a really difficult time for kids-particularly those who are being raised in homes with an emphasis on compassion, giving and justice. Going from discussion on hunger, racism, sickness, and injustices to welcoming the abundance and busyness around the season that celebrates the giver of our salvation should leave anyone to “stop and think”. In our home we focus on balance as much as possible. The celebration of gift giving can be a meaningful tradition to many of the circles that we spend time with during the year and participating in it can be a way to show respect and compassion for those we love. We’ve also found it to be a great way to experience impulse buying of luxury items in a limited way (we teach thoughtful patience on purchases the rest of the year).

Being prepared to engage our children as they process their emotions, feelings, and behaviors helps us welcome gifting without sacrificing their hearts. While this looks different for each of my kids on different days it can often appear as selfish behavior, outbursts of anger, silence, bursts of joy followed by moments of extreme sadness. These behaviors should be met with a loving understanding rather than frustration and contempt. It’s very important for us to create a sacred place of communication during the advent season that allows each of us to think for ourselves, ask questions, process our feelings, come to terms with “enough”, and welcome abundant generosity. It’s been during this season that we have individually and as a family gone through some very life changing passages that always lead to more generosity.

Here are a few ways that we specifically create space for compassion during the season:

-Offer our older children ways to create income for themselves (rather than just giving them money). Then we allow them to make their own decisions on how that money is saved, spent on themselves, gifted or given to those in need. This year we started putting it on paper for them so they could see where their money is going.  Putting a value on money helps them to respect the work that is invested into the gifts they receive.

-We create space for times of reflection so that their hearts can be open to the needs of others. We respect their cautiousness or generosity without influencing them with what’s the “right thing to do”. We hope that we lead by example (although we often realize our own selfishness in the process).

-We create freedom to spend money on themselves or save it in order to prevent guilt. We work hard when they are younger to teach them patience, self control, sound spending habits and then allow the freedom to make wiser choices (and even mistakes) as they are older. The Christmas season is a good time of year to allow them to practice with impulse buying.

-When we begin to see acts of disobedience, negativity or anger we offer space for them to reflect on how they feel or we simply become present for them to discuss their feelings. We are extra generous with grace and forgiveness for poor decisions during this time of year.

-We create a regular time of devotion and discussion every night. This allows our children the safety of knowing that no matter what they are going through they will have an opportunity to share with us.

-We allow our kids to have overwhelmed and even negative feelings. And by “allow” I mean that we try to decrease the negative consequences (like rolling our eyes, walking away, creating guilt) around those feelings. It’s easy to expect kids to show their appreciation, but if this season really is a reflection of our savior and salvation then surely moments of reflection that encompass all sorts of emotions are to be expected. Especially when our culture adds immeasurable amounts of sugar, splurges, and extra stimulation into the mix.

This way of being with our kids during this season is difficult to explain, but I hope you’ll find it encouraging to know that I spend a lot of time feeling overwhelmed with it all. There are times when what I really want to do is sing Christmas carols, drink hot cocoa (or a Starbucks coffee), buy more gifts than we need and ignore the pain. But I’ve learned to recognize that calling that says, “please do not ignore these babies hearts”. Often times I’ll just sit down and hold them while they work through it all-words aren’t always the answer. In the end, this way of looking at the season has made us look forward to January and the new year much more than before.  Balance.