Christmas is the season of giving. But let’s be honest, it’s also the season of getting. After all, the question everyone asks kids this time of year is, “What do you want for Christmas?” So why wouldn’t children think getting is the most important thing? The kids in our culture are plagued by the “gimme syndrome.”
What are the symptoms of the "gimme syndrome"? An eight-year-old responds, "How much will you pay me?" when Mom requests her help. A seven-year-old asks to invite more children to his birthday party so he can receive more presents. A ten-year-old complains, "I wish we lived in a house as nice as the Garner's—AND they have three TVs!" A five-year-old points out a multitude of toys and games she wants for Christmas. Possessiveness and materialistic attitudes seem to be a hallmark of the twentieth-century child. The pursuit of money and possessions is glorified in many ways. Commercials, billboards, TV shows and movies all encourage children to believe that happiness can be bought.
But the Bible tells us in Acts 20:35 that “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” What can we do to convince our children of this?
First and foremost, we can nurture an attitude of thankfulness in ourselves and in our children. James 1:17 reminds us that every good and perfect gift is from God. We need to do all we can in our homes to help children realize that our material possessions are not really ours, but God's. As you spend time with your kids, pause often for brief informal prayers of thanks to God. Begin a "thank you" list at home. Invite your kids to add to the list often. Or, read the story of the ten lepers (Luke 17:11-19) and ask your children to think about ways they can be more like the one grateful leper. Make sure your children overhear your expressions of thankfulness to God and to others. If you're thankful, say it!
Second, and perhaps more challenging, encourage your children to develop a non-materialistic attitude and life-style. Take advantage of teachable moments. When your family receives an income tax refund, an unexpected gift or a Christmas bonus, use the occasion to talk with your family about good use of money—some to save, some to give and some to spend. And when the occasion is a lack of money rather than a surplus, you as a family can ask God's help in determining priorities for spending and express your reliance on His care.
The children of the Israelites regularly observed their parents bringing offerings of animals, food and precious fabrics and metals to the Lord. While our gifts are often not so tangible, children need to know what and why their parents give to the Lord. Your offering of a check once or twice a month, hours of volunteer labor or use of musical talents, for example, needs to be coupled with a brief explanation. You might say, "Helping to paint the church windowpanes is a way I give to the Lord." Or, "God wants us to use our money in good ways. When I give this check to our church, I'm helping our church tell others about God. I'm glad to give this money because I'm so thankful for God's love to me."
Another way to help your kids escape the "gimmes" is to plan ways for your children to become aware of the extreme poverty in which millions in our world live. Show current newspaper and magazine pictures which depict the impoverished circumstances of others in third-world countries (or even your own country or community). Call your child's attention to TV news segments which highlight the needs of others. Send your kids to GLOW, MPKids or Impact League on Wednesdays. Then build on this awareness by providing a way for children in your home to act in a caring way for a needy person or family. As a family, plan and carry out a project to contribute to the well-being of others. Sign up for a Family Service Opprotunity like making dinner for the men in our Winter Shelter. Encourage your children to not only think about the needs of others in our world, but to follow your example in giving.
Consciously and unconsciously, children want to be like their parents. Your attitudes and actions now will make a difference in their attitudes toward money for the rest of their lives.
During this special season of Advent, encourage your children to consider the great gift that God has given us in the birth our Savior. Remind them that God could’ve selfishly held onto his son. But instead, God gave lavishly to us. Share with your children the great joy you get in giving to others. Tell them about times you were more blessed to give than to receive. Your personal example is a powerful teaching tool for your children.
Much of this article is taken from Gospel Light’s reproducible article, The Gimme Syndrome.