Q: Last month your column discussed practicing self-denial with kids and offered ways to guard them from developing narcissistic tendencies. It was helpful advice, but I’d also like to encourage my kids to be more thoughtful and aware of the needs of others. Do you have any ideas how I can do this?
Jim: The fact that you value and want to promote a lifestyle of selflessness with your children suggests that they have a pretty good chance of getting there. It’s been said that “more is caught than taught” — so if you’re consistently modeling these actions and attitudes in your home, you’ve provided them with a great head start.
That said, it’s important to actively involve your kids in the process, and there are many ripe opportunities for this during the Christmas season. Here are some ideas to consider:
- Shovel an elderly neighbor’s driveway.
- Bake and deliver cookies to those working on Christmas Day (e.g. firefighters and police).
- Serve meals at a local shelter.
- Visit a nursing home to carol or read Christmas stories with residents.
- Provide gifts to the underprivileged through projects like Operation Christmas Child.
- Drop off baked goods to those who are homebound or hurting.
- Invite those who don’t have family to join your holiday table
You can add your own creative ideas, I’m sure. But the key is to help your kids grasp the “why” of all this. A good way is to ask questions designed to help them reflect on how recipients of your kindnesses may be feeling and what difference your actions might make. For instance, “How would you feel if you were all alone or had to work on Christmas Day?” In doing so, you’ll help them develop empathy and the capacity to recognize, understand and identify with the feelings of others — invaluable character traits to instill in your children.
Q: Growing up, I enjoyed Christmas traditions that revolved around caroling, baking cookies, decorating a tree and helping prepare big family dinners. I’m not sure how it happened, but our family traditions have morphed into watching Christmas classics such as “Miracle on 34th Street,” “White Christmas,” and “A Charlie Brown Christmas” — or other media-related activities that involve little interaction. Everyone seems to love this but me. How do I introduce a media-free Christmas?
Bob Waliszewski, Director, Plugged In: My answer may surprise you: Basically, you don’t. Let me unpack this a bit by touching on the idea of completely eliminating TV from the home. While I’m not entirely against this step, I believe it works for relatively few families. Those that navigate “throwing out the TV” successfully do so only when all family members are on board. When it’s just a top-down decision from parents, it typically backfires.
The same pitfalls exist when trying to introduce a media-free Christmas. Your observation that “everyone seems to love this but me” suggests you don’t have the buy-in necessary to proceed. Not every parenting decision should be 100 percent buy-in, of course, but those such as going media-free at Christmas should rarely be dictatorial.
While I’d encourage you to preserve the traditions you enjoyed, making wholesome Christmas movies part of your family’s annual experience can also be a positive thing. Many families bond by watching films like “Elf” or “It’s a Wonderful Life” year after year to the point where they can playfully exchange dialogue from the film as easily as they can sing “Jingle Bells.” I’d suggest that, in addition to caroling and decorating the tree, you spread a net wide enough to enjoy a few films together, too. No sense in being a Scrooge when it comes to all Christmas-related media!
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.