By Nohad Mouawad
Several times a year we go through it. At birthdays, special occasions, and holidays. Our kids have their wish lists, and these sometimes cover several pages or can be rolled out across the room like a red carpet. According to our kids, “all their friends” (probably just 1 or 2 kids they know) have iPads, iPhones, Nintendo Switches, Playstations and Apple Watches.
All of this really puts the pressure on when it’s time to give them gifts. We love our children so much, and we want to offer them special things, see the joy on their faces when they open up a package they’ve been waiting for, and feel like a ‘good’ mom or dad for getting them what they really wanted.
But is giving into all their wishes and desires really good for them? Is having lots of presents on their birthday, a huge pile of presents under the Christmas tree or getting lots of presents from their grandparents, aunts and uncles something that makes them ‘happy,’ or does it make them more demanding and less satisfied with life in the long run?
Besides there being a lack of sociological and anthropological studies of the long-term impact of gifts on kids, I don’t think we can boil down perfectly the effect of one parenting decision in the long run.
How many gifts we offer our kids, is just one factor in how they’re raised, and maybe it won’t make them or break them. There are some things to consider, though, when deciding how many gifts to give your child, whether this festive season or on any other special occasion:
The One-Day Rule: Okay so I just made this up, but is your kid going to play with this toy or item for only 1 day? Will they be more interested in the box than the actual toy or product? (toddlers I’m looking at you!) Is the toy just something they saw in an ad in the run-up to the holiday or their birthday, but once they get it, it turns out to be of terrible quality?
Last Christmas my daughter kept asking for the RoboFish she saw in the constant ads on TV. When she got that RoboFish and filled it’s fake tank with water, it died after only a few days and our whole house was covered with its fake fish food. In other words, if the gift is something with a short lifespan, definitely avoid it! This applies to crying babies who wet their diapers, slime and any toy that does tricks.
It’s Just Another Screen: Listen, I understand. My kids love screens just as much as yours do. My son, in fact, has listed at least 5 types of devices on his Christmas list. My kids love Netflix, video games, and even YouTube. Will bringing more devices into our house actually make them and me happier, though?
Fast forward, to us fighting over screen time and late nights when I walk into my son’s room to find him playing video games at 3 am. No, no it will not. It is so hard to avoid the pressure of the screen-related wish list, but if you can find another gift related to their interests, go for that instead.
Make it Kind of Useful: Not every kid wants a warm pair of socks as a gift for Christmas or any other occasion, but you can get your kid something that’s more than a toy. A personalized sports jersey for a kid that loves football, an instant camera for a kid that loves using your phone to take pictures or a brand new art set for a creative child, are gifts that serve their purpose and make kids happy, at the same time.
Limit their Choices: I like to tell my kids how many items they can list in their letter to Santa Claus, as it sets expectations and help them think carefully about what they really want as a gift. Most of the time, we stick to 5 to 8 items, and I try to tell them that “santa” won’t be able to get them lots of big gifts, so that they get the idea that they can’t ask for too many expensive things. Maybe one large gift they’ve been dreaming of (if that’s within your budget) and a few smaller things.
Grant Some Wishes: I would say that, if you can, at a special occasion like Christmas, a birthday or an important gifting occasion in your own culture, it’s okay to give in to their wishes and grant them that one thing they’ve been pining for. It justifies that, at other times, you don’t always get them every item that they ask for. I think it also rewards them if they have been working hard at school or trying their best to be kind and respectful.
Balance the Small with the Big: Once you’ve granted them one or two big, but reasonable (I’m not talking a pet tiger!) wishes from their list, you can compliment these with other smaller things they wanted, from a puzzle to Play-Doh. Books are always great gifts to subtly encourage learning, and these can be comic books or books from a popular series they are reading at home or at school.
Give an Experience: Consider gifts for your kids that are more than toys or objects to fill their shelves: give them the gift of a fun experience with you, their family or on their own. A special day out, the experience of seeing a live show or even just doing their favorite activity if it’s an expensive one, is a gift that can have a bigger impact on their year than most physical objects that just end up collecting dust. They might even learn a new talent or develop a new hobby thanks to the class you or a family member gifted them.
Teach them to Give Back: Teach your kids that gifting goes both ways. This can start as simply as them learning to pick out gifts that their siblings or family members might like and even using a little bit of their pocket money to get something for them.
It can then develop into kids gathering gifts for other kids who don’t receive as much as they do, or donating old toys (in good condition) to charity, and explaining to your son or daughter that not every kid is lucky enough to get lots of toys at Christmas, and what it means to be generous and giving. The more kids practice giving themselves, the more they will (slowly as they grow up) learn to value the gifts they receive.