I always encourage parents to create Christmas for their own current family and not to allow it to be influenced as much by their childhood Christmases. By all means—keep your family traditions. Those may be wonderful and special. But don’t let these hold you back from making new ones with your spouse and children. For example, if your parents opened one gift on Christmas Eve and your kids love that, keep that tradition. And then, maybe add a new tradition of something your children would like to do on Christmas Eve that you’ve never done as a child.
The best thing a parent can teach their child is never to compare their family to other families in terms of material goods. These comparisons tend to start at an early age and not just at Christmas. Kids will talk about electronics, clothes, sporting goods they have or don’t have but other family does. By the time they reach teen years, this kind of talk is highly damaging to self-esteem and can cause anxiety and depression.
I very much encourage parents to teach kids that material goods don’t define a human being’s worth and that anyone who compares material goods is not a good friend to keep. According to Psychology Today, studies have shown that children who have FEWER material possessions but positive relationships with parents and peers demonstrate HIGHER self-esteem, LESS behavioral problems and can cope with stress better.
A good way to reinforce this concept around Christmas is to shop for presents for others and to donate clothes and toys to Goodwill, Salvation Army, and any other charity in your local area which is collecting new or used toys or items. Studies have found that people value gifts they buy for others more than gifts they receive and feel happier giving rather than receiving gifts.
Another good way to teach kids gratitude is by expressing appreciation for the things you have as a family rather than talking about things you don’t have. Teach your children that giving meaningful gifts is more important than expensive gifts.
Here are top 5 ways to give your children great gifts but make sure not to spoil them:
- Don’t fall into the trap of buying toys from “The Top 10 Hottest Holiday Toys.” Your child doesn’t need the latest electronic gadget. It will be forgotten by the end of January and replaced with their old favorite stuffed animal. You’ll just be stuck paying that credit card bill.
- Don’t teach your child that she gets all the things she asks from Santa for Christmas. I taught my children that Santa brings one toy from their list and the rest are surprises. Now that they no longer believe in Santa, they still know they can expect one of the items they ask for. And it’s usually something small but special. They value this one gift a great deal.
- Don’t overdo it with a number of gifts. Any parent who has done Christmas a few times can tell you that a kid’s eyes glaze over after about 2 gifts and then you have to beg them to open more. They don’t want more. That first gift they open is the only special one. So, buy 2-3 gifts and then maybe wrap a few items to put under the tree that are not toys but may be fun to open later, after some rest: some candy, stickers, a coloring book, a pack of crayons, playdough, treats to give to a pet.
- Make sure to buy gifts that have your child’s interests in mind. Don’t buy a musical instrument in the hope of turning your child into a musical prodigy. Don’t buy a bicycle if the street is covered in snow, just because you got one as a kid. Don’t buy dolls for a girl who loves to build with Legos or buy action figures for a boy who would rather have art supplies.
- Teach kids the lesson of giving at Christmas. Shop with them for gifts for others, teach them to wrap and make gifts special. Get them excited about keeping those gifts secret.