The holiday season is everyone’s favorite time of year. All of the lights, food, and festivities tantalize our senses and invoke feelings of playful merriment despite the cold weather.
As adults, we know that holiday celebrations such as Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa are about appreciating and enjoying the comforts of home and family. Young children, however, often don’t learn this lesson until much later in life. If asked, most children would say that holidays, birthdays, and other special occasions are all about presents.
This obsession with stuff can negatively impact a child’s emotional development. According to child psychologists, children who grow up believing material things will make them happy are more prone to depression, social pathology, and other mood disorders.
How can parents help children develop a more balanced view of gift-giving and holidays?
Children are big business. Every year, advertisers spend between $15 and $17 billion to woo your children into wanting their products. Combat consumerism by teaching your children some basic critical thinking skills.
- Watch what your child watches. When they are exposed to ads online or during a break in their favorite TV show, talk to them about what it really means.
- Make media literacy a game. Show your child how to spot advertising methods like product placement, commercial tie-ins, and emotional manipulation.
- Use art to help your child analyze commercial messages. Have them make ads for their favorite products. Talk about why they think it would be effective.
Children who understand how advertisements influence their thinking are less likely to blindly accept the message.
Create a New Focus
Give your children something besides presents to look forward to during the holidays.
- Make a new family tradition. Every family member could select personal items to donate. Or spend a day volunteering at a homeless shelter. Show your child that giving feels just as good as receiving.
- Skip the gift exchange. Take a family vacation for the holiday. Spend the day playing paintball, skiing, or engaged in activities that your whole family enjoys.
- A good gift is defined by its thoughtfulness and not its monetary value. Opt for homemade items instead of store-bought gifts.
Emphasize family and experience over presents to encourage a healthier view of holiday exchanges.
True Happiness Through Giving
Teaching your child to enjoy giving and sharing with others offers a variety of psychological benefits.
- Gift-giving releases endorphins in the brain. These chemicals are associated with feelings of joy, peace, and happiness.
- Sharing with others cements bonds and helps create social networks your child can call on throughout their lives.
- Children learn empathy and compassion. These traits ensure stronger, more meaningful relationships. There is some evidence that these traits may also help protect the immune system from the negative impacts of stress.
By teaching our children to value people and experience over possessions, we can overcome the effects of uncontrolled consumerism.
Anthony Cupo is a Trained Mindfulness Facilitator (TMF) from the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. He is a co-owner of Stepping Forward Counseling Center, LLC and has been meditating for over 30 years.