Our culture seems to cultivate an entitlement mindset. In the name of equality and fairness, children receive awards for showing up, rather than for the accomplishment. Children are confused by adults that cannot distinguish the difference between equality and fairness. As a result, many feel that whatever someone else has earned they are entitled to, regardless of consequences. How can we overcome this?
The intentions that led to creating this mindset were probably good, but those intentions seem to have backfired and may have contributed to entitlement thinking.
A large problem comes from thinking that fairness and equality are synonymous. They are not. Yet, this confusion is taught to children in the schools, scouting programs, and sports. That which is equal is often not necessarily fair. We could all eat the same diet, regardless of size, health, and caloric expenditure. Prison camps did that. So did orphanages and breadlines. Each person got the same, even though needs were different. That would be equal, but not fair. What if we let everyone ate according to their needs? That would be fair, but not equal. That which is fair is often not equal.
What mechanisms in the home can lead to the entitlement mindset? How do allowances contribute to the entitlement mindset? Many parents want to teach young children money management by giving them allowances. Some tie the work to chores, treating children like adult employees. But children are not adults and not employees. Children need training. And when we pay them, they work for themselves. If the pay is not enough incentive, they do not work. They feel entitled to choose and the chore wars often ensue. Some parents give allowances with no work attached. Unintended lessons often follow. This can send the message that others owe you things you did not earn. In other words, others owe it to you. Also, do children really learn to manage or spend? With many children the lesson is that they get and spend. How does this teach a healthy relationship with money? How does this teach money management?
What then, is the remedy? How do we help our children to not have an entitlement mindset? The remedy for entitlement thinking is cultivating a serving-heart. Ask not what your family can do for you; but what you can do for your family, village or country! A serving-heart is created in the forge of the home. Creating a serving heart is a real and vital part of a child's education, and takes the focus off what themselves and places their focus on others. Christmas is a great time to begin to cultivate a serving-heart!
9 Ways to Cultivate a Serving Heart through Christmas Traditions
1. Secret Service
While many are placing the Elf on the Shelf, some are busy filling the manger. Placing an Elf on the Shelf may motivate some children to behave. Yet, it only works on actions not motivations. Filling the manger is placing straw in the manger for each act of anonymous service. Simply print off a little note that says, "Merry Christmas, you have been served!" Make several copies. Place the papers in a bowl next to the manger. Explain to the children that the family will be doing secret service. Each time they do a secret service they leave a note. The person that finds the note (left for them by one who did secret service) places a piece of straw in the manger. Then the note is returned to the bowl. The baby Jesus is placed in the manger on Christmas Eve.
2. Christmas Classics Read Aloud
Shared reading of classic Christmas tales can help focus the family's mind on service. Some books to consider: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl S. Buck, and The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski. Many of the stories in our "A Classic Christmas Devotional Anthology" also teach service, such as the excerpt from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott or The Elves and the Shoemaker by Hans Christian Andersen.
3. Christmas Childcare & Santa's Workshop
We have opened our doors to neighbor children, for activities like making a gingerbread houses or Christmas presents with them. All the while, this frees their parents for a few hours so they could do their Christmas shopping or wrapping. This does not need to be to the whole neighborhood. This could be extended to one in your extended family, a neighbor, or someone from church, for one just afternoon. So instead of just babysitting, the children were jazzed to make something beautiful for their parents! And my children had the opportunity to help make it happen for someone else.
4. Serve a Neighbor Family
My mother-in-law, a divorced mother, raised four children alone. Often struggling financially herself, always found a family to bless at Christmas. We have carried this tradition on with our children. Some years have been very lean, but we have found someone we could bless. If you can set aside funds to put together a food box that is wonderful. If funds are tight, the family could fast or do a simple supper a few nights and take the money saved and fill a box with food for someone struggling. Hand made gifts or goodies are nice, too! Serving a neighbor could also include shoveling snow, taking in dinner, or watching children for a family that needs it. Look for ways to serve and discuss with the family how you can lighten someone's burden.
5. Homemade Christmas
In my childhood home, a lot of Christmas was sewn by mom, homemade. In my own home, I helped children make gifts for each other, from the time they were about three. Making gifts shifts the focus from, "What will I get?" to "What can I give." The children would observe each other's needs and likes. They would try to fill a need or something they thought their sibling would enjoy. A side note is that this developed their creativity and their "can do" skills!
6. Caroling & Gift
We made Christmas ornaments. One year it was beeswax ornaments. Another year was stained glass ornaments. Another year we sandblasted ornaments. Go caroling and take homemade ornaments in lieu of treats. This is fewer calories and ornaments last longer.
7. Care Center Cheer
In years past we went to Hospitals, Care Centers, and Rehab Centers. We sang, took treats, and little gift bags with personal care items and some Christmas Cheer. What can you do if care centers are locked down due to viruses? Create a home video, read scriptures, sing carols, tell old Christmas stories, and spread some Christmas Cheer. Call the center and let them know what you are doing. Ask what else would be permitted. The Christmas presentation can be sent over the internet. No germs there!
8. Homeless Care
Homeless centers are always looking for ways to bring Christmas Cheer. Many lack warm hats! Even a three-year old can learn to hat loom and keep their fingers busy as you read Christmas stories and other classics. Check with the Homeless Center and Women's Shelter to see what items they might need.
A lot can be put in a gallon ziplock and have on hand when going out and about. These can make nice care packages to hand out to people holding up signs.
Care Kit Ideas:
Socks, gloves, hand warmers, granola bar, water, gift certificate for fast food (hot meal), a face mask, hand towelette wipes, and slip in a card with the address of the homeless shelter.
9. Twelve Days of Christmas
We have picked a family and left 12 days of cute notes, treats, or gifts. This does not have to be expensive or big. One year we were the recipient. Each morning we would wake up and find a package by our front door. That was sneaky. We have creaky wooden steps and never heard them! Each day we recieved a beautiful white ceramic figurine that was part of a nativity set. Christmas eve it snowed. My family was sick. Everyone waited and wanted to see who was bringing the gifts. No one came. In the morning, my husband found a gift on his seat in the car. It was the Christ Child. I cannot tell you how much we all anticipated each day.
Christmas Bonus that Keeps on Giving - Christmas Prayers
As Christmas cards, gifts, and visitors drop by, add their name on a slip of paper into a jar.
Throughout the year, each day at family prayer, draw a name, and pray for that person or family. Then put the paper back in the jar. It is OK if someone's name is pulled more than once. You and your family may be the only one offering a prayer for them that day. You can keep this anonymous. However, often it lifts a person's spirits to know they were prayed for that day.
You never know what little act of selfless service will mean to another person!
In future articles, I will discuss ideas to overcome the entitlement mindset and ways to cultivate a serving-heart throughout the year.
Serving traditions enrich Christmas. Merry Christmas! May your family find joy in serving!
Enjoy the Journey!
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