Last week I sat in a training class for our early childhood team. The lady leading the training was fabulous.

She has been a teacher and a training consultant in the public school system for the last 40 years. She is also the mother of three grown children. In the middle of her training she dropped this sentence and boy has it stuck with me. She said,

“Overindulgence obliterates gratitude.”

She went on to say that through the years she noticed a real trend in parents who overindulge their children. Her feeling was that this was usually driven by guilt. Maybe it was due to the guilt of working too much, or guilt due to painful family issues, or a sense that their child didn’t have everything in life that other friends’ children had.

I also just got back from a mission trip to China where I worked with children who had nothing. No home, no toys, no parents. Nothing. Talk about feeling guilty! It’s been really difficult for me to reconcile all of the things that I give my children and yet know that there are children in other places who have so much less.

At the heart of it all, I want my children to learn to live with less so that they can give to others who need their help and I want them to be grateful for the things that they have.  I have to believe that there is a strong tie between the abundance of “stuff” that they get and the tenderness of their heart to the needs of others.

So, here are a few things that I’m trying this year as we head into the Christmas season:

1. Share the true need. Take time to help your kids understand the great needs of many people in our world. Or better yet, be specific. Find a specific need and focus in with your family. Help them understand.

My youngest daughter went on the trip to China with me and together we sat down with our family, shared our pictures, shared our tears, and communicated the true and desperate need.

2. Talk about a way to meet that need. As a family, brainstorm different ways that you could meet that need. What can you DO to meet that need?

We are going to sit together as a family and decide together what we can give to help those sweet babies in China.

3. Give the family ownership. Let your kids help make the decision of what you will do. This could be a wonderful mission for your family to rally together. But your kids have to feel like they are a part. Find a way to invest that is more than parents writing a check.

Our family is going to talk in general terms about our budget and decide what we can give up to make sure we are giving to China. Our kids are old enough to help us make these decisions.

4. Limit gifts. As my kids have gotten older, the gifts are more expensive. I love to give my kids the things that they want, don’t you? But Gary and I are going to be careful not to overindulge their wants.

I want my kids to have a wonderful Christmas, but not at the expense of developing a generous and grateful heart. Stuff breaks, rusts, and gets thrown to the bottom of the closet eventually. I want to nurture in them a desire to invest their lives and their resources into things that will last forever.