From Presents to Philanthropy: Teaching the True Meaning of the Holidays

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From Presents to Philanthropy: Teaching the True Meaning of the Holidays
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If it seems like the holidays are taken over by presents, wish lists and decorating, it’s time to get back to the basics: teaching your children the true meaning of the holidays. “While parents are focusing on this year round, the holidays are a major built-in opportunity for parents to help children develop character and values,” says Rachel Robertson, director of education and development at Bright Horizons Family Solutions. “Receiving gifts has no long-term impact on a child’s development, but contributing to others and learning about giving and selflessness does.”

Take a Trip Down Memory Lane
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Take a Trip Down Memory Lane

Holidays offer plentiful opportunities to strengthen family bonds and relationships, connect children with relatives and friends they may not see often and to create lasting memories. Share family stories that offer examples of how children's ancestors have demonstrated character. From a great aunt's selfless act of kindness and a cousin's quest to feed the homeless to a family tradition of reading faith-based stories before dinner, share experiences or actions of family members that impacted you. “No child will remember the matching china or holiday napkins, but they will remember the stories they heard over the dinner table,” says Robertson.

Show Historical Significance
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Show Historical Significance

It’s important to help children understand the history of the holidays their own family celebrates, as well as those their friends celebrate. “Read fiction or non-fiction books about the holidays and visit places that celebrate holidays in different ways,” suggests Robertson. Classics such as "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas" and "Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins" can prompt your child to think critically about the true meaning of the holidays while "Thanksgiving is for Thanks" by Margaret Sutherland and "The First Thanksgiving" by Nancy Davis will allow them to reflect on gratitude.

Share and Create Traditions
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Share and Create Traditions

As the holidays creep up on you, begin sharing the history of your family’s holiday traditions and recipes with your children. Involve your children in creating new family traditions by getting creative, suggests Robertson. Document the memories made by asking your children to write down funny or memorable things that happen throughout the year and placing them in a glass memory jar. “On New Year’s Eve, take them all out and read them together to reflect on your year,” says Robertson.

Promote Thoughtful Planning
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Promote Thoughtful Planning

When preparing for the holidays, involve your child in the act of cooking or buying gifts. “Help them make connections between the values of the holiday and their actions,” recommends Robertson. Work together to choose special gifts for family members and ask your child to think about what would make each person happy. “These strategies encourage children to be thoughtful,” says Robertson. “These skills are best developed through experience rather than being told to be polite or thoughtful.”

Encourage Time Contributions
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Encourage Time Contributions

Giving children the opportunity to contribute is an important part of the holidays, so involve your child in the preparations for each occasion. Children can write and read a poem at Thanksgiving, help choose and wrap gifts or create a table centerpiece. Encourage them to take actions that are non-monetary, says Robertson. “Whether it is volunteering, visiting a distant relative or just spending time together, memories will last longer than any new toy,” she says.

Get Crafty With Giving
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Get Crafty With Giving

Find ways for your child to give back to teach the true meaning of holiday giving. Suggest that each child trade a toy for a toy by donating toys to those in need. “They are giving, getting and cleaning all at the same time,” says Robertson. Consider participating in a service project or obtaining a “Crafts with Kindness” kit from the Bright Horizons Foundation that includes craft activities, do-it-yourself cards and baking projects kids can make for friends, neighbors, military personnel and nursing home residents.

Serve Those Serving
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Serve Those Serving

Use the holiday season as an opportunity to discuss how others sacrifice their time to help others. Ask your child to make a list of people who devote their lives to helping others. Diana Bigham, a Texas-based family therapist asked her daughter to define gratitude one year and was pleasantly surprised when her child classified gratitude as having thankful feelings in her heart. “We came up with the idea to make cupcakes and serve them to local law enforcement, emphasizing how we are thankful that they protect us and keep us safe,” she said.

Set the Example
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Set the Example

Parents are the role models who can teach children the true meaning of the holidays. Set an example by allowing your child to see you performing acts of kindness, joining in religious or spiritual services or giving back to local organizations, says Julieta Macias, Maryland-based psychotherapist.

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