by Carolyn Knarr, MSW, LCSW, Director of Children’s Therapeutic Services
That first Christmas night God knelt down and placed his newborn son in a small barn with no heat, no electric lights, and no red carpet welcome, just mice, straw, the chill of the night and the stench of animals. That is how much He loved us. That is the message of Christmas.
Fast forward over two thousand years. We stand as Ghosts of Christmas Future in the living room of an American home. Halloween is barely over. The glossy ads from Best Buy are strewn over the coffee table with a Dell computer, iPhone, and the newest Apple iPad circled in black marker. The 14 year old daughter talks to her mother in a somewhat demanding voice about what she wants for Christmas. The mother rolls her eyes and tries to engage in a conversation about why she thinks hundreds of dollars of new technology are a bit ridiculous. First we hear begging, then manipulation (“But everyone has….”), then outright disrespect. Not sure how her sweet church-raised daughter turned into a self-centered, materialistic teenager, the mother gives her usual conversation ender, “We’ll talk about it later.” The daughter groans loudly and runs to her room.
Maybe your children are not quite like this, or maybe they are, but somewhere along the way children have become more entitled. Our technology-saturated world has produced technology-addicted children. And Christmas can set the stage for conflict between parents who feel frustrated and powerless, and their children who see the upcoming holiday as their yearly opportunity for getting the expensive gadgets they want, and think they need to have.
If you want to make changes, talk about it as early as possible. Talk to your children about your frustrations. Tell them the problem you see, such as their obsession over what they want. And ask them if they have any ideas for making Christmas more than a selfish wish list.
Here are some ideas that may help:
- Encourage children to give gifts, not just ask for gifts. I am amazed at how many children don’t buy others gifts for Christmas. No wonder they are so self-focused! From a very young age, parents should be talking to their children about what others might want for Christmas and what they are going to make or buy for them. Make Christmas primarily a giving holiday, not a receiving Help them learn to wrap presents and make a tag for the top. Encourage their sense of joy as they watch others open the gifts they have prepared for them.
- Discourage children from asking for things. Don’t ask, “What do you want for Christmas?” Again, this encourages children to focus on themselves. Instead, ask them questions about Christmas such as what cookies they want to make for others, what they want to do for their teachers, etc.
- Do fun advent activities with the children to help them stay focused on Christ and to provide a feeling of expectation for his coming, rather than expectation of “getting.” (Pinterest has many children’s advent activities).
- Create memories and traditions at Christmastime, especially on Christmas Day. Often the climax of Christmas occurs early on Christmas morning when gifts are open. Then what? To shift the focus off the gifts you will need to have something to do on Christmas Day that is meaningful and memorable.
- Use the Christmas holiday to spend time with your children. St. Louis is full of fun holiday activities, many of which are free. Choose one or two to do, and spend less time shopping. Ask family and relatives if you can give to their favorite charity in lieu of a gift. (Last year I got 2 chickens and a goat donated to a third world country. So much better than clothes from a certain relative who thinks I like pink!)
- Discuss a budget with your school-age children. Talk to them about why you are going to have a budget (you are accountable to God in your spending, just as in every area of your life). As part of this, help them to appreciate and understand finances. Teach your child to write checks and then ask them to help you with paying bills, or have your child read the amount on the bills to you as you pay them online. Without any lecturing, they will begin to understand the cost of living. However, do not make them feel that your family is in financial difficulty or that they need to worry about finances.
- Talk to your children about how consumer goods do not produce happiness. Have a conversation about how long certain possessions will last, and what things they have in their lives which will last forever. This can be a fun activity and one which can provide wisdom. Read and discuss Luke 12:33 with them:
- Finally, be a good example. Try to be joyful at Christmas and keep your focus on Christ!
Carolyn Knarr earned her Master’s Degree from Washington University, and has been counseling for over 20 years. She is a member of the National Association of Social Workers, and is a licensed clinical social worker.
Carolyn has a strong background in working with children and adolescents with ADHD, attachment disorder, trauma, bipolar disorder, and Asperger’s. She works closely with their families to help them with the emotional and behavioral aspects of these disorders. She utilizes play therapy, family therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy, and is qualified to do psychological assessments with children. Carolyn also sees adult clients, couples, and families.
Through counseling, Carolyn helps her clients look at past and present relationship issues, communication patterns, and the potential for healing and growth.