Giving Gifts: Five Guidelines

What can be more fulfilling than giving our children gifts? But giving a gift provides much more opportunity than simply the fact that a new toy provides our children joy. Most of us stress the importance of teaching our children the real meaning of the holidays and how the decorations, tinsel, and gifts are not really what a holiday may signify. But our children’s little brains are still often screaming, “What did you get me?” or “What did you bring me?” along with, “Hers is bigger than mine!” or “You got him more!” And the parents often wonder, Can I get Trey one without getting Jason one too? Or one parent will say to the other, “Honey, don’t you think we’ve bought the kids enough?”

Many parents rain gifts on their kids. In too many homes, opening gifts is a self-indulgent party in which the child rips the paper off one present, looks at the present briefly, and then goes on a hunting trip for another present to rip open.

There are some Love and Logic guidelines of giving presents that wise parents follow:

Guideline One: If your child shows little appreciation for gifts, give less.

If your kid is bored, unappreciative, or not pleasantly responsive when receiving a gift, there is a good chance you are raising an entitled brat. Your child is simply getting and expecting too much.

The old Christmas song warned kids of yore, “Better not pout, better not cry, ” for Santa checked his list twice for children who were “naughty or nice.” Many of today’s children believe that pouting and “being naughty or nice” have absolutely nothing to do with the stash they are entitled to receive. They feel they are owed the gifts. If a sincere thankyou is missing, you are raising an entitled child. This is easy to ignore when the kids are younger but often becomes blaming and hostile when they are teens.

Guideline Two: All kids should be equally loved and treated equally. However, equal treatment does not always mean a gifts.

The happiest parents know (and wise children learn) there are different strokes for different folks. That’s the way the world works. Sometimes one kid needs something expensive and the other kid doesn’t. Loving parents who generally treat their children equally help their children learn to delay gratification, show appreciation, develop coping skills, handle jealousy, and understand the needs of others when they don’t act as if every child needs a gift every time another receives one. Parents who equally love their kids and are equally generous overall don’t have to feel like they need to give equal-value gifts on every occasion.

Guideline Three: Don’t buy into marketing hype.

By the time the holidays roll around, your kids have been bombarded with advertising pitches. They want a “look-like-me doll” or a particular game. Nothing else will do. It is okay to gratify such whims if the child has knowledge of real reasons the advertised item is attractive. But wise parents help their children to not fall for a pitch: “Wow, they make that plastic rocket look twice as big as it is, and the kids have ten times more fun with it than they really would. I guess you already figured that one out, didn’t you?”

It’s perfectly okay to say to a child, “Honey, buying stuff like that simply does not fit my value system. It’s not what I do. But I can understand your wanting it. You can buy it if you would like!”

Guideline Four: Be creative about opening gifts.

No need to necessarily open all twenty gifts within a twelve-hour period. One family felt it was much more meaningful to the children when the gifts were opened over a period of “the twelve days of Christmas.” Let the kids pick which gift they want to open on which day. Then they’ll look forward to each gift.

Guideline Five: Teach your child the joy of giving.

The joy of giving more than matches the joy of receiving. Teach your children this. Some of them may not come by it naturally. Show your enthusiasm about giving to others, and it will be contagious: “Wow, I bet when we take this turkey over to the Salvation Army, they will be so happy. I can hardly wait to be surprised and see what you’ve chosen this year.”

The value of giving gifts is only meaningful if the children spend their own money. This leads most children to be very creative about what they make or buy as gifts. Often a gift that a child makes tends to be more exciting and gratifying than something bought.

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