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by Dr. Susan Bartell


   I admit it. I love the holiday season, which seems to be getting longer each year. These days it begins with Halloween and doesn’t end until January. The frenzy, lights, parties, sales — and sometimes I even sneak in a vacation for a few days. I love it all!


   But what I don’t like is that all the material aspects of ‘the season’ are making it more difficult for me — and you — to instill in our children a deeper, more spiritual feeling connected to whichever holiday we observe. And parents with whom I speak feel the same way.


   At this time of year, the world is even more intensely commercialized than usual and it’s hard to escape. And while some of us (like me) enjoy it, our children are inundated with seductive advertising practically every minute of the day. It becomes difficult to speak to kids about God or religion when their minds are stuffed with ideas about the gifts they want, the parties they will attend, and the ski or beach vacations on which they will embark.


   Who can blame them?


   In a way, who can blame us? Margaret, a mom of two kids, expressed it perfectly: “I want my kids to believe in God and the meaning of the holiday, but the world can be so tough that I also want them to have fun! Is that so bad?”


   No, Margaret, I don’t believe it’s bad at all. So, don’t take the fun away! Instead, you can fight the stranglehold of commercialism in our culture by adding ideas within your family that will help your child become spiritually enriched.


   To begin, the gift-giving (and receiving) season doesn’t mean you are required to say yes to every gift your child demands. Limit the number of presents your child can request, or limit the dollar amount if your child is saving for something big.


   In addition, if your child receives a gift that he doesn’t like, suggest that he donate it to a toy drive rather than exchange it. Or instead, in advance of the holidays, plan with your child that a small amount of her saved money (or gift money) can be used to purchase a gift for a toy drive.


   Next, at the beginning of the holiday season, pick a charity your family will support. Spend the year collecting for that charity; the amount doesn’t matter. For example, donate a percentage of a bake sale profits, or part of an allowance or babysitting earnings. Throughout the year remind your child that this is the true spirit of the holidays.


   This last suggestion is secretly a gift to you. Have a family meeting where you agree to a negotiated number of family meals during ‘the season’ that are free of the usual bickering, arguing and fighting over seats, elbows, who was talking first, and everything else. After all, part of the holidays is about peace, right? If necessary, put dates on the calendar so no one will try to renegotiate later. If you traditionally attend a family holiday meal that is typically stressful, you might consider making this one of the dates.


DR. SUSAN BARTELL is a nationally recognized child, teen and parenting psychologist and award-winning author. You can learn more about Dr. Bartell at www.drsusanbartell.com.  

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