If you buy children gifts at this time of year, or on other occasions, you might be interested in an important article Ben West’s dad, Jim, forwarded me this week. Although the piece is about Santa Claus, the content pertains to giving children presents for Chanukah, other holidays, or a birthday.
The article points out what happens when one child tells another that Santa Claus brought her a very expensive, popular technological gift. Children who didn’t get the flashy new item report feeling that Santa must not care about them. The article’s caution: don’t attribute big gifts to Santa. However, more importantly, it highlights our cultural emphasis on materialism and the practice of encouraging children to talk about their possessions with pride.
Traditionally, that’s been our emphasis. Why is it that on a holiday or birthday, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and well-meaning friends call and ask a child “What did you get?” We raise children to believe that the objects they receive are a measure of their worth as a person.
There are countless articles on dematerializing the holidays, and every family has its own approach to gift-giving spending. But I wonder what would happen if we change the question we ask children at this time of year or on other special occasions. What if Grandma called on Christmas and asked “What did you give?” rather than “What did you get?”
Children can learn to invest their energy in the gifts they have created or selected for family members and friends and find delight in the other person’s positive response. In addition, they can find satisfaction in giving to people who have less.
There have been many articles over the last few years about children spontaneously deciding to give away their birthday gifts. These generous impulses reflect a new consciousness in children. Of course, we wouldn’t want to insist that children give away cherished objects. However, we can start to establish a new norm that it’s not polite to talk with others about expensive gifts. Instead, we can encourage children to find joy in talking about the satisfaction of giving and thinking about a world where everyone shares in abundance.