Commercial pressure surrounding the holidays seems to increase each year. Parents may worry that their kids will get too caught up in “getting” and perhaps less in “giving,” especially how to give in a meaningful way.
At SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center, pediatrician Heidi Sallee, MD, who specializes in adolescent medicine, says that parents can take a number of steps to help their children enjoy the excitement of Christmas – even that of getting presents – while also learning about giving and other values that are important to the family.
The first step, Dr. Sallee says, probably is for parents to set a good example themselves, with less focus on getting or even receiving the most extravagant gifts. But it’s not easy.
“You turn on the TV and there’s a commercial for gaming systems and this and that – all about buy, buy, buy,” Dr. Sallee says. “There are constant ads for expensive cars with big bows on top, and we hear daily news reports about consumer holiday spending. So it’s not just kids that can get caught up in it. It starts with us as adults – we need to be conscious of the message that we’re sending in our own families.”
While parents may want to be cautious in talking about buying the most expensive gift for loved ones, it’s also important to teach children to seek meaningful gifts for others, such as for a cousin or for a grandparent, Dr. Sallee adds.
At worst, she suggests that kids probably should not but “gift cards” as presents, because this has little thought involved. “Parents should try to help their child find something that’s especially meaningful to the recipient,” she says.
One way is to go online with a youngster and help them pick out gifts for their cousins or a brother or sister that will encourage or help them personally in some way.
Kids also can begin to learn about charitable giving. For younger children, Dr. Sallee suggests that parents help them to go through their toys and pick out ones they’ve outgrown to perhaps donate to a charity shop. Older children can even make donations to registered charities in the name of a family member.
“There are a lot of online charities: Save the Children, World Vision – those are a couple I’ve used,” Dr. Sallee says. “Your child can buy something meaningful and fun -- like a farm animal for a family in a third world country; so maybe a goat for Uncle Johnny or a flock of geese for Aunt Suzy.
“Obviously the goat is not going to Uncle John directly, but adults are appreciative, and it’s especially meaningful and fun for the children to pick out something.”
Foremost, Dr. Sallee suggests trying to teach children that the season simply is more about giving than about receiving, and taking time to talk about other values the family holds as well.
“For some of us, it’s about the coming of our Lord. But for all families, it’s more about giving rather than receiving, and if you can focus your kids on giving, it’s likely everyone will be more satisfied by the holiday’s end.”
When it comes to children getting presents, Dr. Sallee suggest that while families have different budgets and means, it’s a good idea to talk candidly with children about what things costs, and to set realistic expectations. Otherwise, younger children who may be caught up in the holiday frenzy about presents might well be disappointed.
“Try to lower expectations if that’s what you need to do,” Dr. Sallee says. “Say plainly that Santa doesn’t bring everything, or explain that mommy and daddy can’t afford to buy all those things, and then help the child to decide which toy or thing might be most important.”
Younger children also may not understand why Santa can’t bring everything on their lists, she continues. One helpful tactic that some families are adopting, she continues, is for Santa to bring one toy per child in the home, allowing kids to learn that mom, dad or grandparents provided the rest.
While kids want “stuff” at Christmas, spending quality time with a child may be the best gift that a parent or grandparent can give. Dr. Sallee suggests a perennial and often inexpensive favorite such as a children’s book can accomplish both.
“You’re giving more than the gift of a book – you’re giving the potential for learning and for sharing. If the child can’t read yet, they’ll need to go to somebody who can read, and sit in their lap and spend some time while you read them a special Christmas story.”