To paraphrase the brilliant Jane Austen, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a modern child in possession of everything (s)he could possibly need, must be in want of more.”
This is true whenever grandparents come to town, when their birthdays roll around, and most especially during what I like to refer to as “Gimme Season.” Gimme Season is that special time of year between Halloween and Christmas. This is when at least half of all TV commercials are hawking what my kids should be wanting. Every store – even the local Publix! – has a holiday display with candy and other nonsense right at the entrance. And every family member they have is asking them what they want for Christmas.
Honestly? It can be a bit much.
Because what do all of these commercials and displays and innocent questions cause my kids to think about? All the things they don’t have. And that FOMO (feeling of missing out) regarding toys or candy or the latest trend in clothes/shoes/etc. can turn into some pretty toxic whining and awfully demanding attitudes if we, as parents, aren’t careful with how we respond to it.
Now, of course I’m not saying that we should avoid gift-giving completely. But, I just feel like there has to be some corresponding activity to balance all of the “gimmes” and the materialism that can so easily creep into our celebrations of Jesus’ birth. And the season of Advent is a perfect time help our kids do just that.
Read on, friend, and I’ll share 5 of the best ways I know to cut down on the greediness and grow in gratitude.
So, what can we do?
Pray for others as a family.
My friend, Marley, has three small children. They’re making it a tradition in their family to ask for the special intentions of their friends and family before Advent starts. Then, every day during Advent, they will pray as a family for that person or intention. What a great way to help our kids think of the needs of others!
Do an Advent Purge
When my kids were smaller, I often felt like their playroom (ahem, our unused dining room) became completely overrun with toys they forgot existed. Things they once loved but didn’t even see anymore were just collecting space, yet they kept asking for more and better and newer things! The solution I came up with was to do an Advent Purge.
With the kids’ help, we would go through all of their toys and make a “collection” (better verbiage than “fill a trash bag”) of toys they would like to give to boys and girls who didn’t have as many nice things. Then, I would take them with me as when I went to drop them off at the donation center. Having them help me gave them a sense of pride and made giving to others much more of a concrete action than a mysterious idea.
Make a Thankful List
It may seem fairly obvious, but one of the most surefire ways of growing in gratitude is to actually say thank you. I know, mind-blowing, right?! But what a great focus to give your dinnertime conversation! You could go around the table and give everyone the opportunity to thank someone else for a kindness that day. Or, everyone could tell about something that happened that day that they were grateful for. Either way, keep a running list. Watch it grow throughout the season. You could even wrap it up as a birthday present for Baby Jesus when you’re done!
Count Your Blessings
A few years ago, we did a Count Your Blessings project with the kids. All it took was some tongue-depressor-type wooden sticks, a jar, some butcher paper, and washi tape. On each of the sticks, I wrote a category of “things” that our family has in our home. Some of these were: cars, rooms, beds, windows, TVs, books, bikes, etc. We discussed how blessed we are and the fact that many children in the world don’t have all of these things that we often take for granted. Then, the kids went around the house and literally counted up our blessings. Finally, we kept a running list right in the middle of the house where we could see it.
Soften the Manger
When I was a little girl, we would put out an empty wooden manger at the beginning of Advent. My dad would bring home some straw from his job site to place around it. Our job, as kids, was to do good deeds and show kindness through the day so that we could place a piece or two of straw into the manger before we went to bed that night. The more good things we did, the softer Baby Jesus’ bed would be on Christmas morning!
Now, on the flipside, if we did something really bad, well…you guessed it. We’d have to take straw out of the manger. Oh, the horror! Somehow, though, every Christmas morning, when our beautiful Baby Jesus figure was put in the manger, there was always lots of straw to keep him comfy. (You can look at this website to get something similar for your own family!)
Keep an Outward Focus
Regardless of how you choose to observe the season of Advent with your kids this year, keeping them focused on others rather than always on themselves will seriously lessen their case of the Gimmes.
Other ideas could be to volunteer at a homeless shelter, food pantry, or soup kitchen. Maybe there’s a group that goes caroling at a nursing home. Lots of churches have “giving trees” set up with gift requests from the less fortunate. All of these are great ideas!
It’s terribly easy for anyone to fall into the trap of Gimme Season, but it’s up to us how far down we fall. Maybe this is the year we change the game. Maybe this is the year Gimme Season turns into Gratitude Season.