It's like clockwork: Every December, my kids get the gimmes — and they have expensive taste. In fact, my 7-year-old asked for a Tesla for Hanukkah. (That wasn’t exactly what I had in mind when I encouraged him to aim high.) It can be hard for children to see past the onslaught of marketing messages and see the true spirit of the holidays: the spirit of giving.
If your kids are like mine, they may need a few lessons on what Christmas and Hanukkah are really supposed to be about. Here are four tips for helping them:
1. Make a compliments list. Each day, pick a person in your family, and ask your kids to write and draw a compliment about them. For example, if it’s Dad’s day, have your child think of one thing they really love about Dad, or something they’d like to thank him for. Then, come Hanukkah or Christmas, present each member of the family with their custom book with the pages stapled together. Yes, you'll need to start this one before the holidays arrive, but even on a short timeline, this project will give each member of the family the warm fuzzies.
2. Use "Positive I" statements. When your kid does something kind, describe what you see and why you value it. For example, you could say, “I really appreciate you helping me clean up dinner. When we work as a team, we can accomplish things much more quickly and efficiently.”
New Jersey-based parenting educator Rachel Benstein says that Positive I statements have three components: what you say, how you feel about it and why you value it. “More powerful than a 'Great job!', Positive I statements teach your child cause and effect — that their actions have consequences, both for their family and for the world around them,” she explains.
3. Practice kindness on a big and small scale. Whether it be working in a soup kitchen or volunteering at your local library, your kids will learn how important it is to be kind by practicing acts of kindness. I love the kids book "Have You Filled a Bucket Today?" by Carol McCloud — it shows that when you are kind to others, it benefits you, too. If they see you practicing kindness on a daily basis, they’ll follow your example.
In your home, even when you’re angry, even when you’re tired, if you talk firmly but respectfully to them, they’ll (hopefully) do the same. One thing I like to do is to learn people’s names — whether it be the mailman, the crossing guard at school or a cashier at the grocery store. When my children see me greeting them by name (and start doing it themselves), this small act of kindness becomes second nature.
4. Teach your kids to recognize their feelings. Often, kids aren’t allowed to get angry or sad. When a child gets hurt, many parents will say, “You’re OK.” But the truth is, allowing your children to feel what they are truly feeling will help them to be empathetic and kind to others. Once your child recognizes he is angry, you can help him calm down and choose to do something helpful instead of hurtful.
For example, teach your kids a calming breathing technique to use before lashing out at somebody else. Then, when the child has calmed down, he can approach the person who hurt him to tell that person how he's feeling. “I don’t like it when you take things out of my room without asking. Next time, please ask me first.”
Remember: Teaching kindness, like teaching kids how to be responsible, is a lifelong parenting exercise!