Before I begin, I want to tell you a little bit about my family. We are not wealthy by any means, but God has always provided what we needed. The past few years have been a season of transition for us. We have traveled from Alaska to Northern California to Southern California and finally to North Carolina.
Before leaving Alaska, we got rid of most of our belongings. The kids gave away the majority of their toys to friends. All along the way, we have had less than typical living situations. We were in a 32-foot travel trailer for 14 months, a garage for 4 months, and now we’re renting a master suite that we’ve managed to convert into a somewhat normal living space.
Our kids have endured all this transition while forfeiting their own space. In our current home, they are sharing the walk-in closet. My husband built a triple bunk in there and they are more than happy, especially since this is the most space they’ve had since leaving Alaska.
I say all this to explain to those who don’t know our family that my kids aren’t spoiled. We’ve had to cut costs, save money, and go without. Our favorite place to shop is the thrift store. We spend much of our time doing free things like going to the library, hiking, playing outside, playing games, and attending free events.
Even after all of this, our kids astound me with their attitudes. I rarely hear them complaining about our living situation or not having enough. They have enjoyed times of plenty and times of need. Just as Paul says in Philippians 4:12:
“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”
Now that you know a little bit about me and my family, I would like to discuss some things I’ve learned about teaching our children to be content.
A Time of Discontent
With the holiday season approaching, we’ve already begun thinking about shopping and parties and fun activities. It’s a time of joy and fun. It’s time for giving gifts and showing love.
Of course, we as parents tend to focus much of our attention on our children during this time. We want to make the holidays special, magical, and memorable. Many of us have probably begun Christmas shopping already (I know some who started months ago!) and filling the calendar with activities and parties.
With all of these festivities, though, it can also be a time of discontentment and spoiled attitudes. This seems to be the tricky balance–how do we have fun, show love, and enjoy the holidays as a family while teaching our children to be content with what they have?
Teaching Contentment Year-Round
It’s important that we’re not just focusing on thankful and content attitudes during this time of year. This should be a year-round, all the time occurrence. It’s a lifestyle, not a one-time teaching opportunity.
With that said, it’s never too late to begin implementing practices that instill a heart of contentment in your children–and yourself!
After thinking about this topic, I’ve come up a few things that my family has done that has helped to foster contentment in our children.
Boundaries and Saying No
Boundaries is a big one in our family. I have a lot to say about them (click here for more resources). We as parents need to set boundaries just as God sets boundaries with us.
If we are constantly saying yes to our kids because we are afraid of how they will respond (with a tantrum, yelling, etc.) or because we need them to be happy with us, we will not only create in them a sense of entitlement, but we will then become a slave to their whims.
As parents, it is our responsibility to set boundaries and make good decisions for the ultimate benefit of our children. Sure, they want to eat their entire bag of Halloween candy in one night, but we want them learn the importance of healthy eating (and to not have a terrible tummy ache!), so we set a healthy boundary for them. Our God-given vision for our children to be healthy, mature individuals will help us to create boundaries that are beneficial for them and the family as a whole. (For more on Godly vision, read “Godly Vision Necessitates Boundaries“.)
The Fight Against Entitlement
A lack of boundaries creates a sense of entitlement. Entitlement says “you owe me” or “I deserve it” or “you’re not allowed to say no to me!” Entitlement cannot hear the word “no”.
As parents, we can begin telling our children “no” at a very young age–probably within the first year. This word needs to be normalized, but it also needs to be balanced with love, trust, and connection. When a child knows he is loved, he will be able to accept your boundaries because it is understood that boundaries are for his benefit.
Now, when you first begin setting boundaries, children will still be upset. This is normal. Empathize with their feelings while maintaining the boundary (“I’m sorry that you can’t eat all your candy, honey. I understand you’re disappointed.”).
Children who learn to respect others’ boundaries will be adults who respect the separateness of others, not needing to manipulate, control, or coerce others into getting their way. They will also be able to handle disappointment in a healthy way because they had parents who helped them to process through their feelings.
Setting an Example
This is by far the most important point I want to make. If you as a parent are not thankful and content, you will be hard-pressed to nurture contentment in your children. Children learn more by what you do than by what you say, so if you want content children, learn to be content with what you have (Read more here).
Are you content with what you have or are you constantly complaining about what you don’t have? Are you always after the new gadget, the latest trends, the hottest vehicle?
Now, I’m not saying that it’s wrong to want more. Heck, our family has been praying for over two years to own a home. The problem occurs when we are unhappy with what we have now.
We can practice contentment by learning to accept God’s “no”, understanding that He is a good Father and He knows what is best for us. For our story, read “When God Says No.”
One of the most practical things we can do for our children is to get them thinking about others instead of just themselves. What this looks like for each family will be different. Be sure to choose activities that everyone can participate in.
Perhaps you could volunteer as a family at the local food shelter. Maybe your kids could help pick out some extra gifts for Toys For Tots. You can bake some cookies for the homeless. Even encouraging your children to put some change in the bell-ringer’s bucket fosters generosity in their hearts.
I especially enjoy watching my kids get excited about the gifts they will give each other. They use their own money to pick out gifts for their siblings and then they get to watch in excitement as the gifts are opened on Christmas Day.
Giving and thinking outside of our own wants and needs feels good! When we encourage our children to do this, they will experience that feeling too.
Teaching our children that God is a good Father and He provides all we need will help adjust their perspective. Matthew 6:25-34 teaches us that we don’t have to worry about what we will eat or drink or wear, but that God will provide for us. This would be a good passage of scripture to discuss with your children.
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
When we learn to trust God as our good Father who provides all we need, the ability to peacefully rest in that truth will transform the environment of your home. Instead of the stress and anxiety that comes from a lack of trust, we will help to create homes of peace. And, once again, as we learn and practice these things as parents, we are better equipped to teach our children.
My last point I want to make is to prioritize connection with your children. Do not allow the busyness of the holidays to keep you from spending quality time with them. No amount of gifts, desserts, or fun activities will be able to replace the love a child feels when you connect with him.
I also recommend reading “Not So Great Expectations: Letting Go of the Should’s and Ought-To’s to Have a Joy-Filled Holiday Season“.
What are some things you’ve implemented to teach your children contentment during the holiday season? What new traditions will you start this year?