Christmas Thoughts

This Christmas was Elijah and Sedaya’s second Christmas in Canada.  The contrasts between this year and last year were glaringly obvious.  Last year during the holidays, they barely knew any English, were overwhelmed by the strange traditions, and generally out of sorts.  This year, they were able to communicate their feelings and knew what to expect.  We were able to explain the true meaning of Christmas in a way they could understand and the story behind some of the common traditions.  But one thing only changed slightly between last year and this, and that was how hard the holidays were on Elijah.

Some kids who grow up with very little end up not putting a lot of value on material things and enjoying anything they do get, which describes Sedaya’s response.  Other kids who grow up with very little become obsessed with keeping anything they get and becoming very possessive of their “things”.  The latter describes Elijah.  I assume that there are kids who fall somewhere in between these two extremes, but in the case of our kids, if you gave Sedaya a sticker, she would be happy and she would be willing to share that one sticker with anyone.  Elijah, on the other hand, will take that sticker and hide it and compare it with every other person’s sticker and complain about the unfairness of the size, colour, and shape of his sticker in contrast to everyone else’s.  Last year’s Christmas was therefore, characterized by a lot of meltdowns.  We have worked on a lot of issues with Elijah this year and have seen huge improvement, but this is one where there has been very little change.  He keeps all of his things in his room, not in the playroom in the toy bins, will not usually share anything he perceives as his, and gets jealous of what others have or receive.  His response is understandable in a way because for seven years, he did not own a toy or a book and in the 2 orphanages he was in, there were kids who did have a few items and did not share, and kids who stole and broke the possessions of others, so he came to believe that if you have something, you have to hoard it because you may never get anything again.

This year, we knew that the gift giving aspect of Christmas would be tough for Elijah.  Partly because of that, we decided that we would only be getting each of our kids one gift with a ten dollar limit and a few items from the dollar store to fill their stockings.  Leading up to Christmas, we talked a lot about it being a celebration of Jesus’ birth and how Jesus was the real gift of Christmas.  Elijah loves Jesus, even more than he loves “stuff” and so this approach worked well in the weeks before, but as the actual day got close, we could see that Elijah was struggling with anxiety.  The late nights and extra sugar were no help either.  A few days before Christmas, I sat down with Elijah to talk about greed.  Greed is not a very nice word, and I don’t think that Elijah is necessarily greedy when I look at the reasons behind his behaviour, but he comes across that way to others, and I thought it was an important talk to have.  I also talked to him about the kids who would not be getting any gifts this Christmas, not just in Ethiopia, but right here in our community.  He was actually shocked to hear that there were kids living nearby who would not be receiving gifts.  It was a good talk and I think that it did have some impact.

The thing about Christmas is that when you live in North America, it seems no matter how much emphasis you place on Jesus, the commercialism is present.  Even though we only gave our kids one gift each, there are grandparents and aunts and uncles, so received many more.  Elijah actually reacted much differently than last year when receiving gifts.  He was gracious and though we did notice him checking out the gifts of others, he did not comment or complain.  I was really proud of him and could see how hard he was trying.  The effort took its toll though as his behaviour deteriorated over the course of the evening and the next day.  We were at an event on the 27th and it got to the point where I just had to bring him home immediately.  Thankfully, Mark and I had taken separate vehicles, so I was able to take just Elijah and Jonah (who wanted to leave) home.  When we got here, I am sure that he expected me to talk to him about his behaviour or maybe have him do a chore for a consequence, but I just plopped him on my lap on the couch and held him.  I sang to him and told him that I loved him and we talked about unrelated things and eventually, I could feel his body relax and since then, his behaviours have calmed down considerably.

We’ll see how next Christmas goes, but I am optimistic that as Elijah continues to learn about his worth as a child of God, his anxieties when it comes to times of gift receiving and giving will settle.  I am also hoping that we can continue to keep the focus on the real reason for the season.

Anyone have any suggestions for dealing with a child who has these anxieties around possessions?

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Ruth on January 5, 2011 at 4:53 am

    My son, ironically, named Elijah, is the same way. His comes not from not having, buy from having everything and repeatedly leaving and needing to leave it behind.
    When he is not content with what he receives then he can’t play with it. I don’t take it from him, it’s just off limits for awhile. He would be traumatized of I took his things from him, but he can cope with them simply being off limits.
    Last week due to discontentment and not
    sharing, he lost the right to touch all and any new toys in the house.
    Also if he complains about a gift in front of a giver then he can’t play with it when they leave, because it obviously wasn’t good enough for him!

    Reply

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