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wishfulthinkingfingerscrossedFor many children, this time of year is about getting gifts far more than giving them. This is completely understandable, as these holidays are for many parents an opportunity to show children that we love them and we want them to be happy. But it’s also important to teach our kids that giving presents can be as gratifying as getting them.

I believe that generosity is inherited. If we parents show our children how to care about others, they too will want to help out. Take time to put meaning in the holiday. Tell some stories of your most wonderful experiences, watch a family movie, be grateful, and consider these three simple suggestions to help get the message across:

1. Make them part of the giving process.

Ask your kids what they think their dad or mom might like for the Holiday. Ask them about their siblings. Make the gift purchase your private conspiracy. (Besides, our kids are usually better informed than we are). Let them see how excited you are about also being able to give. Take them shopping and make them part of the decision-making. Use the opportunity to teach them about budgeting by giving them an idea of what things cost. Teach them to budget, save, coupon-clip.

2. Create a family ritual and slow things down.

The holidays come and go quickly.  To slow the process down, take some time to savor each experience — like trimming the tree, lighting the candles, and decorating the house. Remember, until those gifts are opened we parents have enough leverage to insist on certain behaviors from our children.

Here’s a suggestion that came from our very organized daughter. Instead of letting everyone just open their gifts in a paper-tearing frenzy, have everyone (including mom and dad), gather their unopened gifts in front of them.  Once the gifts are gathered, go around the group, having each person open one gift at a time. This gives children the opportunity to share in the pleasure of seeing how excited others get, and it’s also a way to prolong the fun for everyone. It takes a little discipline, but sharing the pleasure of the Holiday makes it that much more of a unifying experience.

3. Do something for others.

Whether you simply ask your children to help you decide on an online donation, hand them money to put into a Salvation Army kettle, or work serving holiday meals to the less fortunate, it is always good for children to see their parents being generous.

vectorstock_6496697‘Tis the time for all of us to promote “Peace on Earth and Goodwill Toward Men” (and everyone else). This holiday season, teach your child how to be a loving and generous person.

That’s a gift that will pay off for the rest of their life (and yours).

Happy Holidays!

Richard

SantaMenorahSmallPeople have asked me how to address intercultural diversity and Christmas-related issues with their children. I’ll start with the message of goodwill toward others and work back from there.

I’m Jewish, but this December I will be happy to say “Merry Christmas” to as many people as possible. Some of them may reply with a Happy Hanukah, or Sweet Kwanzaa, or whatever else anyone wants to celebrate during this Holiday Season. But everyone will do so with a smile – and that’s what this time of year is about.

When people refer to a “War on Christmas,” I’m always amused. On one hand, who would ever want to declare war on such a wonderful sentiment as “good will toward men?” On the other hand, why does recognizing multiple holidays minimize the beauty of Christmas?

Our country was founded on an idealistic assumption of “inclusion.” It’s not easy. Our egos and fears often get in the way. But we are a land built by (and of) immigrants and we are all the better for it. We have many different people celebrating a wide variety of winter solstice related holidays.

coexistChildren are naturally curious about other people and their customs – especially at Christmas, when generosity is in the air. My uncle, who was Jewish, married a non-Jewish woman and we went to their house annually on Christmas Day. They came to our house to celebrate Hanukah. I was very young and it all seemed pretty normal to me. There was no animosity at either gathering, just food, laughs, and generosity. People explained that Christmas was about the birth of the baby Jesus, and I was happy to join the party.

I love Christmas. I know the words to the carols, I’ve sung “The Messiah,” I enjoy pine, peppermint, and crackling fires. My parents didn’t celebrate Christmas in our home, but they appreciated it and allowed it to co-exist with Hanukah. As a result, my children learned the same sentiment. My mother used to say “Christmas is like a fine piece of jewelry. You can admire it, but you’ll never own it.” On Christmas day, my brilliant wife used to leave a small gift from Santa on the floor of each of our children’s rooms about which I would say, “You must have really been good this year – you’re Jewish and Santa gave you a gift! That worked for all of us.

These holidays are about sensitivity and coexistence. Sometimes putting up with other people is not easy, especially when they wear different clothes, eat different foods, and celebrate different holidays. But ‘tis the season that is defined by generosity – both material and emotional – and what better time to teach our children what tolerance really means?

HappyHoswKwanzaaChristmas is bigger than a coffee cup, blue office decorations, or even the words “Happy Holidays.” So let’s just remember what this season is really about, and make a point of teaching that to our children.

We all know that there can be no “War on Christmas,” because love conquers all.

Wishing you PEACE ON EARTH and GOODWILL TOWARD EVERYONE.

Turkey2It’s November now, the month of Thanksgiving (one of my two faves (4th of July being the other)).

November is also the month when our children start rehearsing seriously for their school Holiday Programs.  Singing, dancing, holding signs – whatever it is they’re doing – they’re preparing to be “on their best” for their parents and for their community.

School-children-playing-violinWhen I was young, the Christmas Program was an all-day affair.  We students got to leave our classes early so that we could go home, change into our holiday best and return in the evening for a Bake Sale (to raise money for the school) and for our performance.  Our parents would drop us off in our classroom and then go find seats in the auditorium.  About forty-five minutes later, the show would begin.  We would entertain ourselves in the classroom by playing simple games – like Hangman (on the board), or Simon Says until someone would summon us for our moment on stage.  We would file onto the risers as we had done in rehearsals the day before and face our parents and our community, who were very excited to see what our class had to offer on this pre-holiday occasion.  All the parents were there.  This was Big Time.

LittleGirlSingsToday, the “Holiday” Program still offers the same opportunity for our children.  The concept is similar, although the celebration is more diverse.  After all, it was radical when Hannukah songs were introduced at my elementary school, but today schools spend a lot of time teaching our kids to embrace diversity with sensitivity and empathy.  I find these new additions refreshing, and I note ironically, that we, as parents, don’t seem to be doing our part.

One big thing that has changed is that many parents today only seem to care about their child’s performance.  Typically, these days, after any class finishes their part of the program, a wave of parents stands up and leaves – so that by the end of the program, the last performers (usually the older kids) are greeted by a much-emptier auditorium.  This, I fear, is an unfortunate sign of our times.

People regularly ask me, “What’s wrong with kids today?  Why are they discourteous, why are they so self-involved?”  I believe the answer lies partially in the parental behavior described above.  Why should our children care about the other kids in their school, if their parents don’t?  Why, in fact, should they care about anyone else if we parents are always prioritizing them over others, sometimes even over their teachers or coaches?

SparseAuditoriumBestLiteThis isn’t rocket science.  I didn’t have to study anything beside my own childhood and the emotion I felt when my children asked me after their performances why the audience was so empty.  We parents need to teach our children to be sensitive to the feelings of others and to act in a manner consistent with those feelings.  This isn’t always easy.  There are obligations to attend to, meals after the performance, Grandma’s in town and restless siblings, etc.  But as we demonstrate your concern for the feelings of others, our children will begin to understand that they are not the center of the Universe and that they, too, need to be aware of those around them.

Although it may seem like I’m counseling other parents to be “selfless”, the truth is (from my experience) that teaching our children to behave well and respect others is very much in our own self-interest.  By teaching our children to be conscious of the world around them, and by showing them how to be courteous, our lives actually become much easier.  We don’t have to spend time worrying about bad behavior or insensitivity toward others.  We don’t have to deal with a child that talks back, or corral our kids when we go out in public.  Kids naturally accept and incorporate the positive values that we, their parents have portrayed.  Ultimately, they actually realize that we are people whose feelings and opinions they should also care about, because, they are, after all, a part of a family and community.

StageCurtainSo, there’s a lot more at stake when you decide to bail in the middle of a school performance.  When I wrote “Raising Children That Other People Like to be Around”, I listed “Setting an Example” as one of my key values.  By showing our children that we care about the performances of other children – even children to whom we have no direct connection – we are teaching them that we respect other people in the world.  When they’re reminded that the world is bigger than they are, they gain a perspective that allows them to FEEL and experience gratitude for the things and people around them.  It’s a lesson that will serve them their entire lives.

Yes, November is the month for gratitude, and I’ve written on this subject now because it’s the time to start scheduling those Holiday Programs.  Enjoy the time, and enjoy all the performances.

Happy Thanksgiving.

happy-thanksgiving