Here’s the scene: Mall atrium. Mall Santa sitting on a puffy red chair surrounded by world-worn, shady-looking elves. Long line of squirmy kids accompanied by frenzied parents hoping for that one picture. It’s finally your kid’s turn, and she sits on Santa’s lap as she furtively checks the credibility of his beard. He says to her, “Hello, little girl! And what do you want to give others for Christmas?”
Wait. He doesn’t say that. He asks what she wants for Christmas. It is, after all, the season of . . . getting?
Now, don’t misunderstand me; I’m not saying it’s wrong to visit Santa or for our kids to make a Christmas list and be excited about the gifts under the tree. But often our intense focus on presents and making this holiday special fails to teach them a very important thing: how to live generously.
If you’ve observed toddlers at play, I think you can agree that we’re not born with generous natures. “Mine!” Generosity is something that needs to be taught intentionally. I’m no expert, but here are a few tips to teaching children how to be generous:
1. Reveal the source. Santa is a fun concept, the mysterious benefactor who flies from rooftop to rooftop and squeezes down chimneys . . . but as our kids grow and mature, we need to reveal the source of all those presents. The source is not even us—the parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, or friends. The ultimate source? God! Every gift is from way above the chimney. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights” (James 1:17). Knowing the source will help kids be generous with “their” possessions. My husband likes to use this analogy with our kids: “If someone comes along and gives you a whole pizza and then a friend of yours asks you for one slice, wouldn’t you cheerfully give him one? You were given the whole pizza, so it’s easy to give one slice away, right?” Everything we have has been given to us by our heavenly Father, and when we realize and remember that, sharing those gifts with others gets a bit easier.
Point out God’s ridiculous generosity every chance you get. Show your kids just how blessed you are. Look for needs and show your kids how you can be blessings to others. Give recklessly and let them see how God blesses the giver. Reveal the source of blessings and the reason you can be generous to others.
2. Live it. If you want your kids to be generous, you need to model that for them and not just at Christmastime. Let them see you being generous all year—with your money, your spiritual gifts, and your time. Show them how you set up your budget and help them budget their own money (whether they receive that from working little jobs, birthday money from grandparents, or whatever). As a family, sit down and decide where you’d like to give special donations and allow the kids to contribute so they can experience the joy of giving. Find service projects that the whole family can join in on, like working at a soup kitchen, to show kids that their abilities and their time are also gifts from above that can be shared with others. Living it as a family will help them to grow up with the benefits of generosity all around them.
3. Don’t stifle them. My eight-year-old son recently sent his grandma a birthday card full of cute drawings and words of misspelled love. Before mailing it, he stuffed a crumpled up five-dollar bill into the envelope. I could have told him that Grandma doesn’t really need his money and she would be happy with just the card, but he chose to give that gift, so who am I to stop him? As parents or caregivers, we can guide and monitor, but we dare not stifle or belittle their small acts of generosity. At birthdays and Christmas or even random times throughout the year, encourage kids to get gifts for their siblings and other family members; let them pick out the gift (even if it’s an ugly tie for Dad) and pay for it and thus take ownership of the idea and the feeling of giving. Focus on the heart and motivation behind every gift and allow your kids to be like the widow in Luke chapter 21 who gave “more than all the others,” even though it was only a couple of copper coins.
You and I can’t force generosity, but we can encourage and surround the kids in our lives with examples and generous acts of service. We can point out God’s lavish blessings and show them that out of our thankful hearts we are merely sharing his gifts with those around us. Maybe at Christmas we can even start a “Bizarro Santa” tradition, sitting them on our laps and asking, “What do you want to give others this year?”