Christmas – A Time for Generosity Training

Scott Turansky

Dr. Scott Turansky

Christmas is a highlight in the life of most children, but much of the benefit is focused on what they get. In fact, some children feel entitled and their expectations create tension. What appears to be demandingness puts a tension in the holiday air. Most children need “generosity training” and what better time than the Christmas season to work on it.

Some children need a gentle reminder to get back on track. If your child tends to be self-focused, you might start with some questions to stimulate thinking. For example, “What makes Christmas special?” or “How can you bless others this season?” might be all that’s needed. After all Christmas is much bigger than getting. You might broaden their thinking to other things like spending time with family, remembering the Christmas story and what Christ has done for us, and enjoying holiday traditions.

Some children, however, need more than a suggestion or a question to move them away from self-focused thinking. Here are several tools you might consider to move your children to be generous.

1) Talk about Generosity

Make generosity a topic of conversation. You might point out examples in life, tells stories, or even create specific definitions that apply to your child. For example, “Generosity is sharing with your sister before she even asks.” Or, “Generosity is looking for ways to surprise others with a gift.”

Remember that generosity isn’t just an action. It should characterize our lives. Children who live generosity have something in their hearts. We like to say, “The answer is always yes.” Kindness, compassion, and thoughtfulness provide further talking points to help children change their focus.

2) Share Scripture

Several Bible verses encourage generosity and might just be the tool God uses to stimulate their hearts. Here are a couple good examples: Psalm 112:5 says, “Good will come to those who are generous and lend freely, who conduct their affairs with justice.” and Proverbs 11:25 says, “A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.”

Abraham let Lot pick the land he wanted to avoid conflict. The Good Samaritan gave even though he didn’t know the man he was helping. When Zacchaeus gave a portion of his wealth to the poor, Jesus said, “Salvation has come to this house today.”

3) Practice It

Modeling the art of giving is important, so share with your child ways that you are contributing to the lives of others.

Look for ways to partner with your child to not only do something kind for someone else but plan it together. When kids think of ideas themselves it has a way of touching them more deeply.

One dad reported, “We have so much stuff in our house, we make a practice of requiring that our kids give away some of their toys and clothes on a regular basis. Most of the time they donate what they don’t want or need but occasionally they give something that they value. That’s when we affirm the generosity we’re seeing in their hearts.”

What if your child is unwilling to give? Should you force generosity?

Here’s where the whole issue of generosity gets a bit tricky. Some parents don’t want to require their children to be generous because it then doesn’t come from their hearts. That’s a good point. However, some children have so much selfishness in their hearts that firmness might be necessary to bring about change.

Should your seven-year-old be forced to share his Legos with his six-year-old sister? Sometimes you might appeal to his conscience and allow him to decide. This teaches him that he has control over his play and that he can choose, and that sharing is often the right thing to do.

But, if a child has a tendency to be selfish, demanding, or controlling, then some firmness may be needed to root it out. You might say to a child, “This is one of those times when you need to give your cousin a turn. If you’re not ready to think about others, then you need to take a Break.”

One mom told us of her plan to develop generosity in her kids. “We require that they put aside 25% of all their income into an envelope. Then when the money has built up, the child must give half to the church and the other half to a cause of his choosing. I don’t think our kids would give any money away if we didn’t set up this structure.”

Required generosity can be the garden where character is developed. There’s a point where it moves from behavior to the heart.

In most homes Christmas is a time of giving and receiving gifts. When children must consider each family member and search for an appropriate gift, they must think of others instead of self. It often takes more parenting work to help children shop or make gifts for others but it can make Christmas giving much more meaningful for the child.

One dad said, “I like to watch the eyes of my kids on Christmas morning. It brings joy to my heart when their eyes aren’t just on their own presents but they are eager to watch someone else open a gift. I think that internal reward of seeing someone delighted is even more powerful than getting a gift you want.”

Keep these things in mind

When requiring generosity, it’s important to have meaningful conversations to try to reach the heart. Rules create the container for values and convictions, but it’s not automatic. It’s the conversations about the reasons behind the rules that often fill that container with character and true heart change.

Generosity isn’t optional. It’s required. We’re on a mission in life to give to others. That’s just who we are. Kids need to learn that early and it often has to be renewed at each developmental stage. And most importantly, remind children of the generosity of God by sending us the most special gift: his Son. We not only receive that special gift but we share it with others as well.

What do you think? Should kids be forced to be generous?

Do you want more?

Be sure to watch this short video where Dr. Turansky talks about the difference between giving (an action) and generosity (a heart quality). He asks the question: Should We Force Generosity?

To learn more about the value of generosity and how to develop it in your home, start reading on page 169 of Say Goodbye to Whining, Complaining, and Bad Attitudes, in You and Your Kids.

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  • Dara Davis
    Posted at 14:29h, 02 December Reply

    Thank you Dr. Turansky! Great reminder and practical application to train our children in what Christmas and loving others is all about. It truly is more blessed to give than to receive!

  • C
    Posted at 00:38h, 20 December Reply

    Dealing with that very topic again, this year, at this most special time of the year. While our 15 yo son is making lists and checking them twice and thrice, he cannot be convinced that he should consider gifting as well. Except, of course, when it comes to his best friend. I’ve been trying to decide the best way to handle it and have led with it being important to consider others, and it is better to give than receive, but to no avail. No scripture passage about a generous heart works, either. I’ve decided to go ‘light’ this year with gifts, in hopes that his ‘privileged’ attitude will get the hint.

  • scott turansky
    Posted at 15:59h, 22 December Reply

    Hi C.
    Thanks for your comment. We find that the best way to teach children to give and not just get is through training. Some kids can be quite self focused. Maybe after the holidays it would be good to set up practice sessions where he is required to contribute to the family, both the house and the people. If he is unwilling, maybe tie it to electronics use. If you want to have the benefits of family life, then you need to contribute to it. We find that training is more powerful than correction and often that training requires activity and not just talk. Hopefully that, along with a lot of prayer, will open your son’s heart a bit.

  • A
    Posted at 23:22h, 18 December Reply

    My children are all adults now, and I realize I definitely could have done a better job training generosity into them when they were younger. How can I coach/teach a 20-something year old who I can clearly see still struggles with selfishness?

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