If you asked children about Christmas, what do you think would be the first thing that comes to their minds? Getting presents!
For those parents who wish their children could be more aware or enthusiastic about the true meaning of Christmas, or those who simply wish to make Christmas more meaningful – there are many ways, and reasons.
Christmas and Christianity
Most children are aware of the Christmas story and may have participated in a school play or perhaps carol singing. But there is much more to Christmas than that! Christmas is the festival of loving, caring, sharing and of course giving. It is a time to remind ourselves and others of Jesus’ noble teachings, the life He led and the messages He has left.
How to spread the message of love
Even in the year 2017, there are many who are less fortunate than us, worldwide. These people will benefit from our help no matter how little we are able to give this Christmas. Here is how we can reinforce the true spirit of Christmas with children, in fun, interactive, thoughtful and memorable ways.
Baking – Bake cakes or cookies with children and share them with neighbours, nursing home residents or the homeless.
Donation – Are there any toys, clothes, books or other belongings your children no longer need? Discuss with them how others may benefit from their possessions and encourage the children to take them to the charity shop with you.
Time & Company – Arrange a visit to a nursing home or children’s hospital and take the children there with games, toys and snacks. The giving of your time and company is valuable and fun. There are some who don’t have many to share Christmas with.
Card Making – Make Christmas cards at home with the children and take them to a charity shop so money can be raised. The children could perhaps even choose the charity.
Food Bank – encourage the children to pick up a few things during your weekly supermarket shop and then take them to a food bank where they can donate them.
If you have teenagers, perhaps you could take up different volunteering opportunities with them:
Homeless Shelters ¬– often during the Christmas period, churches and other organisations run shelters for the homeless, they can always do with the help of volunteers, and you could volunteer with your teenager and their friends.
Giving blood – there is always a need for blood donors, even at Christmas.
Knitting Jumpers – If you already know how to knit it may be an idea to teach your teenagers and encourage them to knit warm clothing with you for the homeless or to donate in charity shops.
Teaching Adults to use Computers – Nowadays, most teenagers are brilliant when it comes to computers. Encourage them to teach others to use them: neighbours, adults in the family, church or community.
Reading to Children – teenagers may be interested in volunteering at a local library in the reading corner where they can read Christmas stories to children.
Rewards of volunteering
Participation in such opportunities allows volunteers to:
- learn about themselves
- recognise the needs of others
- gain the motivation to help meet the needs of others
- experience self-satisfaction, pride and a raise in self-esteem
- see Christmas for what it should be
- quality time with the family
- learn from other volunteers
- appreciate what they have and what they may be taking for granted
- the informed choice of doing it again
What could children learn from this?
Social learning theorists such as Bandura (Gross, 1996), claim that learning is a result of what is observed. Simply put, a behaviour observed is a behaviour learnt. Such learning does not have to be intended by the model – the person whose behaviour is observed, nor the observer.
However, whether the behaviour is then imitated by the observer depends on the perceived consequences. For example, if you went to a homeless person’s shelter and baked cakes – whether the observer repeats this behaviour will be determined by the perceived consequences of it. If the observer notices that people really appreciated the gesture, this may serve as enough of an incentive for him/her to do it.
This theory equally applies to the observation of our own behaviour. If we like the consequences of our own actions, it is likely that they will be repeated.
Applying the theory
According to this theory, children will observe, willingly or not, all your interactions, the attitude with which you do everything, your level of enthusiasm, what you say and your overall conduct. Both your verbal and non-verbal expressions will give them a sense of what you think and feel. Theoretically then, you could instill into your children, the true values of Christmas by being the example you want them to be.
Additionally, philosopher Rousseau (1762), states that humans are inherently good and it is external factors that alter this. If being a good person comes to us naturally, which is an argument supported by much research, then it is unlikely that involving children in such activities will be challenging. It is even more unlikely that children will feel they have got nothing out of such a noble deed as suggestively, this is true to their nature.
Reflecting on the activity
After having participated in any of the activities, it would be valuable to reflect on what you thought and felt and also to discuss with your children, how they felt, what they liked, disliked and why. It is important to validate and understand their feelings, discuss your own and also to contemplate on how others involved may have felt. Collectively, these “external factors” will influence whether or not children would like to participate in such activities again.
Strengthening the learning
The theory also suggests that learning develops in three parts:
- thoughts, cognition, knowledge
- affect, feelings, emotions
- conduct, behaviour, deed
To strengthen the learning it is important to reinforce the same message through all three of these modes as the article has addressed:
- Talk about what Christmas is (at home or church), reading relevant stories or parables that reflect Jesus’ teachings and messages, such as The Good Samaritan to develop children’s knowledge.
- Discuss the needs of others, and how we would feel if we didn’t have the things and people that we do have in our lives. Discuss how it makes us feel to help and how we my feel grateful when we’re helped.
- It is not enough to say “it is good to help those in need – show them, involve them – for we all learn better by example. Children are observing you as the model.
By making a few hours of volunteering a Christmas tradition, you are developing your child’s character, self-esteem and emotional literacy. They begin to learn and understand the values of caring, sharing, compassion, empathy, love and peace. Let your kids be Santa this year!