“What do you want for Christmas this year?” It’s a simple sentence I have uttered numerous times in my years as a parent. When I ask this innocuous question, I have good intentions. However, if my goal is to raise selfless and grateful children, I might be doing more harm than good.

When our children are very young, shopping is easy.  We look for fun gifts and our kids are happy opening them.  However, at some point we see a gift sitting on the shelf and not getting used, at which time we start asking, “What do you want?” Unfortunately, this one question not only shifts our focus, but our kid’s, as well.  

Once I ask and they answer, on an unconscious level I believe kids move from a place of “hoping for” to one of innocent and unconscious expectation.  It’s one thing for a child to independently make a fun Santa wish list filled with gift hopes and dreams.  It is another thing to specifically ask for that list.  

Additionally, when our kids tell us what they want, as good parents we run all over God’s creation to find specifically requested gifts.  There is a shift from joyous shopping to checking off boxes.  We can’t blame our kids.  We create the problem when we ask the question.

As I sit here this morning, I’m wearing my “Merry Christmas, ya filthy animal” socks my oldest son gave to me several years back.  I would have never bought them, but I love wearing them because they remind me of my son.  It’s not about me getting a specific gift I wanted.  It’s about the thought.

Have you ever received a less-than-desirable gift, turned your head to the side in confusion, smiled nicely, and said, “Thanks!”?  Yes. That’s the spirit of the season. You don’t soon forget that gift.  My realization?  I believe our children’s focus on getting is in direct correlation to our focus on specific gift-giving.  If we want our children to be thankful, we should look for personal individualized gifts and keep the focus on the gesture itself.