Dear RezilientKidz Team
We love birthdays and holidays around our house! Our only concern is that our sons (age 5 and 7) are at a stage where they tend to focus on themselves and what they will be getting from our family and their friends. We’d like to help them learn to be less self-centered and to think about others. Any ideas you can recommend?
First, the good news—your kids are normal! The fact is, no parent has ever had to teach a child to think first and foremost about himself. But now for the great news—as moms and dads we have the privilege of teaching our kids to think of others and put others first. Of course, that’s the type of thing that can and should be taught year-round, but special occasions and holidays (which always seem to come gift-wrapped with an emphasis on selfishly “getting stuff”) provide a great context for teaching children to think about the needs and wants of others.
One great way to help your children think about others more than themselves is to provide meaningful experiences that you can all share as a family. Doing things together gives children an opportunity to consider “us,” not just “me.” The experiences don’t have to be grand and expensive. Actually, the simplest experiences often have the most impact and the greatest potential for building shared memories. Having a picnic, family game and movie nights, or baking cookies together are great ways to highlight the importance of family and cooperation. Holiday-related traditions such as each family member speaking a positive word about the person celebrating their birthday, attending a parade and picnics on the 4th of July, weekly, scheduled family meal and game nights are all great ways to create traditions and memories.
It’s also important to find something to do as a family that really shifts the emphasis off of self and onto service to others (let’s not forget the importance of Asset #9). Talk with your kids about how you could serve others as a family – this too, can be a great family tradition. Then ask them to think about ways they can give selflessly to others. If they have a hard time coming up with ideas, you can mention a few, like making cookies and delivering them to an elderly person, helping to clear snow from someone else’s driveway or serving at a local food bank once a month.
When it comes to giving gifts, many younger children tend to think about what they want rather than what another person really would like. Concentrating on the wishes of others is a great way to take the focus off of self. Have each of your children ask the other what sort of things they would like to receive when it’s their special day. Even better, have your kids make a gift for each other (and for mom and dad) – one that the recipient would really enjoy, such as a favorite food or kind of cookie. You could then help them each cook or bake their gifts. Just make sure to let your children do as much of the work as possible so the gift is from their hands as well as their hearts.
One thing we’ve done in our family to help take the sole focus off the actual gifts is to have each person say something that they like about the person receiving their gift before it is opened. Our boys have actually talked more about what their friends have said than the actual gift they received. As a matter of fact, this has become a favorite tradition for your kids.
So, remember the importance of Asset #9: Service to Others and realize there’s no better time than birthdays and holidays to teach the value of considering others above oneself. And that’s a gift that will keep on giving!