As parents, we delight in showing our children our love by giving them presents at Christmas; seeing their faces break into excited smiles when they rip open the wrapping paper and first glimpse that longed-for gift. But there is a balancing act to be found between the festive joy of giving and receiving presents and a commercialised grab-fest of over-consumption which can leave many of us uneasy about the messages we are giving our children.
At Christmas, and all year round, we can show our kids that it’s the thought that really counts and by giving love and attention generously you’ll make other people happy – and yourself too – in a virtuous circle of giving.
The old adage that it’s better to give than to receive has been shown to be absolutely true and is down to neuro-chemistry. “When we receive a present we get a hit of dopamine, the pleasure drug, but it doesn’t last – and we crave more,” explains clinical psychologist Linda Blair, Telegraph columnist and author of Siblings.
“When you give, especially when you get to see the reaction of the recipient, you get a release of the oxytocin, the same hormone that plays a role in maternal-baby bonding, empathy and generosity. The effect lasts much longer and gives you a feeling of positive, smiling affirmation.
“Children are like sponges when it comes to learning from parents and they will soon discover that they receive more approbation and for longer when they give generously, from hugs and kisses to helping out.”
Linda adds that it’s not until the age of six or seven that children will fully understand what makes other people happy and can see other people’s viewpoints. “Learning that skill of empathy is a hugely important part of being successful in a social group,” she says.
So how can we help our children discover that positive feel-good feeling of giving and spending quality time with loved ones all year round?
Psychologist Emma Kenny has these tips:
“Christmas Day tends to be enhanced due to spending time with your nearest and dearest and that is something you can make happen more often. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate affair, simply inviting the family round for coffee and cake, or agreeing to go in on a takeaway together means you can enjoy that Christmas closeness on a regular basis.”
“Keep the Christmas spirit going by making a concerted effort to be as kind as you can to people that you meet. Research evidences that when you reach out to people positively you automatically increase your own wellbeing.”
“Teach your children what really matters by encouraging them to carry out random acts of kindness. This can be doing something nice for a sibling, or something as simple as making Nana a cup of tea, because altruistic actions make everyone feel happier.”
“Enable your children to think about how fortunate they are. Teaching kids so they understand how blessed they are to live in a safe country, with food and water can build their empathy levels and make them less self-concerned.”
“Put on your favourite tunes and get your family dancing. Having fun will promote bonding, exercise will increase the release of happy brain chemicals and happy music will elevate mood. Teaching children that they can change the way they feel through the choices and activities they make is a helpful life skill.”
“Be present! Christmas is one of the rare times that families sit down together technology free and that’s one of the reasons why we enjoy the experience so much. Having regular meals with your kids without the TV on, or smartphones in hand will make you all feel closer.”
“Be grateful! At the end of every day, write three things that you are grateful for and one thing that you struggled with but you learnt from and store them somewhere safe. Practising gratitude helps you to seek out all the small miracles that happen every single day.”
Cadbury is making Christmas wishes come true and bringing festive joy to children, families and local communities. Head to Cadvent.co.uk to see generous gifts brought to life and the true spirit of Christmas captured.