As we reach the holiday season, a focus can unintentionally shift onto material items. Many get swept up in the excitement of getting new toys, and as a parent it can be challenging to know how to shift the focus to giving. However, as adults, we can greatly influence the lens through which children view the holidays by examining our own language around this time of year.
To learn more, check out this video by David Maxfield and Joseph Grenny. If you're not able to watch at this moment, allow me to summarize:
These researchers wanted to see if the language that adults use influences the children’s feelings of generosity. To create their experiment, they asked children at a Christmas party to talk to Santa, who was played by a member of their team. They presented two scenarios to two different groups of children. In one scenario, Santa asked children what they were most excited to get for the holiday. In the other, Santa asks what they were excited to give for the holiday. Immediately following this, two children were taken to see one of Santa’s helpers, who was also played by a member of the team. The helper then presented the child with a choice of a big chocolate or a small chocolate, with the understanding that the one they did not choose would go to the other child. That is to say, if the child sacrificed by choosing the smaller chocolate, the other child would have the benefit of receiving the larger option. They found that children who were asked what they were excited to give before they received this choice were 50% more likely to take the smaller candy, therefore giving the larger candy to their peer.
This experiment highlights the importance of cognitive framing, which is the process of using language to impact a person’s interpretation of the information. You might use this when you want to ask for help with a chore and you present it as an opportunity to help. For example, “I’d like you to help out by emptying the dishwasher,” is likely to go more smoothly than, “Why don’t you ever empty the dishwasher? Get to it or no TV.”
If you’d like to shift the focus to giving this holiday season, think about the language you use and lead by example. Ask what your children are excited to give to others, share how happy you feel to give to them, or even arrange a giving project by volunteering as a family.
Emily Herber McLean, LPC is a child and family therapist at The Center for Psychological Services. To learn more about her practice, visit www.centerpsych.com.