Holiday Spirit

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Taken from Growing Concerns -- A childrearing question-and-answer column with Dr. Martha Erickson

Question: With the holidays coming up, our preschool-age children are bombarded with messages, especially on TV, that encourage them to be greedy. How can I help them rise above the "give me" mentality and get more into the spirit of giving?

Answer: Preschool children are still at an age when they are centered on themselves and their own needs and wants. Although it will be a few years before they become more other-oriented, there are things you can do now to help that process along.

- First of all, the holidays are a good time to give the TV a rest. Those messages of greed can't get through if the TV is off. Instead, use this season to create special times with family and friends. Whatever holidays you celebrate, try to build traditions that actively involve family members of all ages in games, music, storytelling, making decorations, preparing food, going on special outings, or watching classic videos (with no commercial interruptions). Now, while your children are still young, is the right time to set limits on the amount and type of material gifts you provide. If you set a precedent of lots of expensive gifts now, it will be much harder to change later. Remember that the amount of pleasure a gift brings often is NOT related to its cost.

- Begin now to involve your children in the process of giving and doing for others. Let your children choose a gift for one of the programs that provide toys for families who cannot afford them. Involve them in preparing a special treat for an older neighbor. Work with your child to make simple, personal gifts for family members (for example, food, framed photographs or drawings, or a special tape-recorded message of love.) Not only will others benefit from your children's efforts, but your children will grow strong in the knowledge that they can contribute.

- Using simple language your children can understand, explain the meaning of the holidays you observe. And, through example, show them how to live that message.

Of course, it is easier to give this advice than it is to live it. My own kids are young adults now, and we still struggle to find the heart of the holidays in the midst of all the glitz. But perhaps we parents all need to agree to support each other in reclaiming our holidays as our own, rather than letting high-pressured advertising define them for us.

Editor's Note: Dr. Martha Farrell Erickson, director of the University of Minnesota's Children, Youth and Family Consortium, invites your questions on child rearing for possible inclusion in this column. E-mail to or write to Growing Concerns, University of Minnesota News Service, 3 Morrill Hall, 100 Church St. S.E., Minneapolis, MN 55455.
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