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Preparing kids for the giving season

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

It's about giving, not getting

One of the more challenging times of the year for parents is the winter holiday season. A time meant to be about togetherness, family and giving can get muddled with "Gimme this!" and, "I want that!" All the ads and the not-so-subtle marketing messages about getting and consuming and more, more, more are hard enough for an adult to fend off. It's not any easier for kids. So how do parents teach their children lasting lessons about giving and receiving?

It's about giving, not getting

Whatever holiday you celebrate during the winter season, it's no wonder kids can get confused about the meaning of the holidays -- and it can be hard to address the issue when you're confronted with your child's five-page wish list! But if you start sowing the seeds of the discussion now, before the holiday onslaught, you may be able to head off some of the worst of the "gimmes" -- and the discussion will only build and expand year after year.

Talk about advertising and the meaning of holidays

Holiday ads start sooner and sooner each year. Before you see the first one, start a discussion with your child about what advertising is and what it does. Start with, say, a toothpaste or food commercial. Ask your child questions about what is being sold, and how. What is obvious and what is implied? Then ask the harder questions: "Is this something you really need? Why or why not?"

When the holiday ads start in full force, you can ask questions specific to those ads. What are they selling, and is the upcoming holiday really about whatever it is that's being sold?

Talk about giving

It can be challenging to talk with your child about giving and how it can feel good to give. Developmentally, younger kids are still self-centered creatures. In an environment in which values are clearly communicated (in words and actions), you can be fairly confident that that your child will leave that self-centeredness behind, but you have to do some work to help them.

Yes, it's nice to receive, but to receive, someone has to give. Talk with your child about what it means to you when you give a gift of whatever size that is really and truly special. Talk about how it feels as a recipient to know that someone spent time and energy (and money) to choose something special. Talk about how thoughtfulness in giving makes such a difference in your feelings about the meaning of holidays -- or any day. It's a discussion about quality over quantity .

Talk about appreciation

A natural extension of talking about giving is talking about appreciation, in all its forms. It's appreciation for what we receive, yes, but also for what we are able to give. Be careful not to let this slip into the old "there are starving children!" declaration -- there are, but it's a quick way to have kids tune out! Instead you can talk about small ways to show appreciation in our everyday life -- and being a super consumer of every new toy is not necessarily the best way. Small conversations sprinkled in your day-to-day routines with the kids sets the stage for gradual, deep understanding, and the perspective on the meaning of the holiday season you hope to impart.

Set the stage for the true meaning of the holidays

Before the winter holiday season bombards us with messages and exhortations -- appropriate and otherwise -- set the stage for your children so that you all can keep some appropriate perspective on what should -- and can be -- a fun and joyous season.

More ways to raise giving kids

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