The visual effect of a mountain of presents is dramatic, filled with all the excitement of surprises and wishes fulfilled. Your heart glows when you hear your child “oooh” and “ahhh” with anticipation. But how much is “too much” without turning into Ebenezer Scrooge? Holidays are more than just gift-giving; they are a time to celebrate with family and friends. Holiday magic twinkles in Christmas lights and Chanukah candles. It’s captured in stories of Santa’s workshop, gingerbread houses with candy cane chimneys and silly holiday songs.
Create holiday traditions that shift the focus off of gift-giving. Whether it’s caroling or wearing your pajamas in the car to look at decorated house lights, collecting toys for homeless children or making cards for seniors in the assisted living center, there are plenty of enjoyable holiday activities your family can do together in addition to giving presents. Include other child-oriented activities: baking cookies, decorating the house, lighting pretend chanukiahs or opening Advent calendars. The gifts won’t be “too much” when other holiday experiences are “just right”.
Teach your child not to expect everything. Set a limit – any limit. Have your child ask Santa for two presents or ten, knowing that Santa can’t bring everything you wish for. Open presents one night of Chanukah or give eight little presents, such as pairs of socks and dollar store finds. Tradition, as you define it in your home, replaces the short-lived satisfaction of getting “everything” (especially since “everything” is an insatiable goal).
Give suggestions to family and friends to help curb gift overload. Remember to communicate your preferences without demanding compliance. Some people will welcome your recommendations while others will still obstinately buy the weird singing elf with the scary ears. Teach your child to accept all gifts graciously without throwing aside those less desirable presents.
Say no to the things you can control. Explain to your child that some things are out of the question. This is an opportunity to explain the concept of value and not just make Santa the bad guy who doesn’t bring the present. Say no to the junk toys that aren’t worth the money and to the inappropriate toys that your child can’t have for a few more years (or never). A well-timed “no” gives your child time to accept limits before she discovers her anticipated dream gift is not under the tree.
Get organized for incoming gifts. The gifts can become overwhelming if you don’t have room for them or if your child can’t play with them in an orderly way. Make a plan to rotate toys or clothes and to give some away. “Giving” before “getting” helps your child appreciate what he has and to think of other children’s happiness along with his own.
Make giving as important as receiving. Children love to give gifts if they choose the gifts they give and they see the pleasure others feel when opening them. Make time in your holiday schedule to encourage your child to thoughtfully plan, shop or make gifts for others.
Every child deserves an abundance of riches. Money can buy a lot of things but some things are irreplaceable and some things cannot be bought. Help your child discover contentment in a holiday season not ruled by insatiable gimme’s. Happiness comes from people and places, from inside and outside, as well as from things. There’s nothing wrong with being excited about presents, as long as presents aren’t the sole emphasis of the season.