Thoughtful Giving

kids dressed up as santa holding presents

Teach the kids about the benefits of the holidays beyond simply buying presents.

The holiday season is a favorite time of year. All of the lights, food and festivities tantalize our senses and invoke feelings of playful merriment despite the cooler weather.

The true intention of mindfulness practices is to positively affect how we live. This season is a time to stop, take a breath, observe and proceed with a smile. Finding your breath in the midst of the chaos lets your mind relax and enjoy the season.

As adults, we know that celebrations are about appreciating and enjoying the comforts of home and family. Young children, however, often don’t learn this lesson until much later in life. If asked, most children would say that holidays, birthdays and special occasions are all about presents. This obsession with material items can negatively impact a child’s emotional development. According to child psychologists, children who grow up believing material belongings will make them happy are more prone to depression, social pathology and other mood disorders.

How can parents help children develop a more balanced view of gift-giving and holidays?

Confront Consumerism Mindfully

Children are big business. Every year, advertisers spend between $15 and $17 billion to woo your children into wanting their products. Combat consumerism by teaching your children some basic critical thinking skills.

  • Watch what your child watches. When children are exposed to ads online or during a break in their favorite TV show, talk to them about what they really mean.
  • Make media literacy a game. Show your child how to spot advertising methods like product placement, commercial tie-ins and emotional manipulation.
  • Use art to help your child analyze commercial messages. Have them make ads for their favorite products. Talk about why they think it would be effective.

Children who understand how advertisements influence their thinking are less likely to blindly accept the message.

Create a Mindful Focus

Give your children something besides presents to look forward to during the holidays.

  • Make a new family tradition. Every family member could select personal items they would like to donate. Spend a day volunteering at a homeless shelter. Show your child that giving feels just as good as receiving.
  • Skip the gift exchange. Take a family vacation for the holidays. Spend the days engaged in activities that your whole family enjoys. Take your family paint-balling, skiing, etc.
  • A good gift is defined by its thoughtfulness and not its monetary value. Opt for homemade items instead of store-bought gifts.
  • Emphasize family and experiences over presents to encourage a healthier view of holiday exchanges.

True Happiness Through Giving

Teaching your child to enjoy giving and sharing with others offers a variety of psychological benefits.

  • Gift-giving releases endorphins in the brain. These chemicals are associated with feelings of joy, peace and happiness.
  • Sharing with others cements bonds and helps create social networks your child can call on throughout their lives.
  • Children will learn empathy and compassion by giving and sharing.

These traits ensure stronger, more meaningful relationships. There is some evidence that these traits may help protect the immune system from the negative impacts of stress. By teaching our children to value people and experience over possessions, we can overcome the effects of uncontrolled consumerism.

Practice Gratitude with The Family

Add daily gratitude practices to the mix. It’s a useful perspective for children in general and has been shown to increase happiness, too. Mealtime and bedtime is a good time to be grateful of the things that we do well by naming something that you are thankful for in your day. Being thankful for the food on the table is one thing we can name. We can go deeper and be grateful for all the people involved in getting our food to our table from the farmers, truck drivers, to the sellers. Allowing the awareness of all involved helps shift the focus and sense of compassion to others.

Mindful self-care during the holiday season is equally as important for Mom, Dad and the kids. Holiday traditions can be taxing in many ways. Don’t schedule more than one demanding event in a day and make sure you give some downtime for the whole family to enjoy. It may be one of your more grateful giving moments.

Anthony Cupo is a trained mindfulness facilitator (TMF) from the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. He is a co-owner of Stepping Forward Counseling Center, LLC and has been meditating for over 30 years.

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