Christmas is a time for giving and receiving.
Many parents are concerned that for their children, it is only a time for receiving.
We want to buy gifts for our kids; we want them to have a great time. But at the same time, we want them to know how fortunate they are.
How can we help our kids become aware of
other children who are needy? How can we help them develop empathy? And is that the same as sympathy?
Not exactly. When we are sympathetic we feel badly about another's situation. We care. When we are empathetic, we can put ourselves in the shoes of another.
For example, we see a neighbour carrying a bag of groceries. She trips and falls, spilling the contents all over the road. We are sympathetic and run to make sure she's OK. We help her get back up on her feet and we pick up the spilled groceries.
If we are empathetic, we act the same way but can put ourselves in her place. We are aware of what she may be feeling while we help her back on her feet.
So how do we do this with our kids? And, more importantly, how can we do it at this time of year when they are getting so much?
Young children are self-centred. They see the world through their own eyes and experiences and this is typical and developmentally appropriate. They are also concrete thinkers. They understand what they can touch and see.
So simply talking about the reality for less well-off kids is not as successful as giving them concrete actions to take.
One way you can help them not only be empathetic but also generous and helpful to other children is to take a look at the World Vision (worldvision.ca/gifts) catalogue.
You've heard about people who buy chickens, a goat or a cow for a struggling family. You can let your child make the choice. This is concrete.
The catalogue will show you not only what is available but also exactly how it helps a family.
And your child will know that he thought outside of himself and his needs. He put himself in the place of a child who needs food or water. It's real and worthwhile, and a great gift for the grandparents who have downsized and do not need more stuff.
You can also sit down with your child and go through his toy collection. Which toys has he outgrown? Are they still in good shape? If so, donate them to an agency or organization that can use them and bring your child with you to drop them off.
Children can also become involved in Christmas-related volunteerism.
Is your church or school delivering food baskets? Have your child participate. And have her donate some food.
This is real. She will be able to place her donation in the box and see it as part of the package.
I also think that kids should do some of the shopping. All too often there is a gift under the tree for Mom from three-year-old Erika, but Dad chose, bought and wrapped it.
There is a real disconnect. Kids who shop for their parents need to try to think about what their mom or dad would like.
It doesn't matter if they choose appropriately. It matters whether they learn to be empathetic, to put themselves in the place of their parents.
Kids can also become involved in all preparations surrounding the holidays.
They can make cards for relatives and friends, they can prepare name cards for the guests, and they can become hosts who answer the door.
In all cases they are thinking beyond themselves; they are planning to make others happy and comfortable.
They are becoming empathetic.
. Kathy Lynn is the author of Who's In Charge Anyway? and But Nobody Told Me I'd Ever Have to Leave Home.