The holidays are fast approaching and our thoughts turn to the frenzy of buying gifts. It’s always a joy to select gifts for friends and family, and watch their (hopefully) delight when the gift is opened. Buying toys for kids and hearing their squeals of delight is especially satisfying!
Let’s get this over with right away — most kids today have too many toys, too much junk, and too much stuff. Much to the chagrin of enthusiastic gift givers, most kids don’t need five or 15 new toys. In fact, all this excess can be detrimental to them. We have watched kids at birthday parties or during the holidays open gift after gift, look at each one briefly, and toss it aside in order to open the next one.
There is nothing wrong with children receiving gifts for birthdays or holidays. But if you’re thinking about moderating the frenzy, we have a few suggestions for alternative gifts as well as activities that help children develop the joy of giving.
It’s more blessed to give than to receive
This is a beautiful principle to live out, but one that isn’t so easy for kids. Here are some ideas:
- For every new toy received, ask your child to find one old toy in good condition that is no longer played with to donate. Take your child with you when you donate and find out about the mission of the organization.
- During the holidays, start a paper chain of good deeds. Every time your child does a good deed, he or she adds a loop to the chain. Young children can explain their good deeds at the dinner table. Older children can keep their good deeds secret to learn the joy of giving with no reward.
- Start a holiday change jar. Every time someone does a good deed, a dime or quarter goes in the jar. Then the family goes together to deliver the money to the Salvation Army bell ringers.
- Choose a child’s name off of a Giving Tree. Take your child shopping and let him or her pick out clothes or a toy for that special child. Hospitals as well as organizations like Children’s Inn or Children’s Home Society will accept Christmas or birthday gifts for the children they serve.
- Help your child research charities and then request that one gift be a donation to that charity. A favorite for us was Heifer International. The kids loved to look through the booklet, read the stories of how livestock changed lives, and pick out the animal they would donate. A visual “certificate” or card was wrapped for the child to open with the other gifts.
Spread out the gifts
Instead of kids opening a huge pile of gifts on Christmas morning, save a few for that time, but spread out the rest. Take a cue from the celebration of Hanukah, in which a gift is typically opened on each of the eight nights. In the Christian tradition, you could open a gift on each of the Sundays in Advent, on Christmas Eve and on Epiphany, January 6. Open gifts one at a time, so everyone gets to see what was received, and so the giver can be thanked.
Everyone wants to give my child another toy
We know everyone loves to watch children open toys. Gently remind grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends that one of these alternatives might be better for your child. These gifts also teach delayed gratification. Your child will need to wait to actually use the gift. This is an important life skill.
- A gift certificate for lessons (swimming, skating, dance, music)
- A gift certificate to attend a special camp (sports, art, cheering)
- A membership to the zoo, children’s museum or other venue in your area
- Tickets to a sporting event, play or musical performance
- A book of small gift cards for various stores, restaurants or services that can be used throughout the year
- A book with a note written inside. Choose a book that was special to you as a child or a book with a life lesson and explain it in your note.
- Start a set of Christmas china. Doniese’s mom did this for her nine grandchildren. Each child picked a pattern and for Christmas or birthday they received one place setting or a serving item. At first, she did it just for the girls, but then the boys started complaining! Now each grandchild has a set of Christmas china and they think of their grandmother every time they use it.
- If your family insists on giving a toy, ask grandparents, aunts and uncles to go together and choose one toy that all the children in the family can use (a painting easel, a building set, a wagon, a yard game).
The gift of time
What kids really want most from grown-ups (even if they don’t realize it) is focused time. Give a coupon book of your time — 20 minutes of reading, a walk together, a craft project— or whatever your child might enjoy.
Now here’s a hard one for parents in our technology-driven world. Decorate a small box. Then give your child coupons for one hour of “technology in the box.” That means you promise to put your device in the box and leave it there for one hour and focus completely on your child.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!