3 Holiday Lessons for Kids

Last Updated Dec 7, 2010 2:46 PM EST

My mother-in-law recently emailed asking what my girls want for the holidays. I was about to call her and mention a few of the less expensive items on my older daughter's wish list. But then I was told that doing so would be a mistake.

If you make sure every item on a child's holiday list is bought for them, then there's nothing left for them to desire to get on their own, says Richard Morris, co-author of Kids, Wealth and Consequences: Ensuring a Responsible Financial Future for the Next Generation. And that can create a real problem for their motivation later on in life, he says.

Well, I certainly don't want to spoil my kids or wreck havoc on their future work ethic. So I asked Morris how he thinks parents should approach the holidays. He believes we should focus less on buying gifts and more on teaching our children about the spirit of the season. Here are his top three Christmas lessons for children of all ages:

Gift Giving
Lesson No. 1: It's better to give than to receive.
We all know we're supposed to convey this lesson to our kids. But how do we make sure they get the point? Clearly, we need to encourage our kids to get in on the gift giving too.

Children as young as five can start giving gifts by making presents for Grandma and other close relatives. And believe it or not, kids as young as 10 are not too little to begin buying gifts with their own money, if they receive an allowance, says Morris.

By the time your children are teenagers, you should certainly set the expectation that they need to save their money throughout the year so they have enough to purchase gifts for their immediate family members, says Morris. But if teenagers would prefer to make something for Grandpa, that's still an acceptable option for them.

Charitable Giving
Lesson No. 2: The holidays are a great time for everyone to give to charity.
It can be difficult for young children to understand the concept of charity. So don't bother asking your five-year-old to donate some quarters from his allowance. But you can ask him to help you sort through your pantry looking for canned goods to donate to a local food drive. While you are working together, you can use the time to explain that some families don't have as much to eat and that your contribution are helping them.

Morris has a different approach for tweens. He recommends asking your child to forfeit one gift from a close relative and to then ask that person to donate something to a charity instead. In an ideal world, the philanthropy should be something that plays to your kid's concerns.

As for teenagers, Morris believes they should give up some of their time and volunteer at a soup kitchen or some other cause during the holidays.

Be Grateful
Lesson No. 3: Be grateful for the gifts you receive.
Finally, no matter how old your kids are, it's important that they learn to say thank you and show that they appreciate the gifts they receive.

Most tweens and teens already know this but a little reminder never hurts. Small children, however, definitely need to be taught this lesson.

Morris recommends asking your little ones to find one sincere, positive thing to say about every gift they receive. You should then instruct them to put a smile on their faces and to thank the giver.

What lessons do you try to convey to your kids during the holidays?

Stacey Bradford is the author of The Wall Street Journal Financial Guidebook for New Parents.
Gift Bag Glitterati image courtesy of Flickr, CC 2.0.
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  • Stacey Bradford

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