Holiday Gifts for Kiddos: How to Find the Perfect Balance (Updated 2020)

Ah.  The holiday gifts conundrum.  Every year, Hubby and I swear we will not overdo it.  And every year we THINK we are succeeding.  But, I am -- right this second -- looking at my tree, and the presents are quite literally spilling out, covering our floor like a mudslide.  Yesterday, I heard my little guy counting his.  He happily proclaimed "ten!" and my head swiveled in shock.  Clearly that can't be right.  We weren't going to overdo it this year!  And that doesn't even include the gifts he'll get from Santa and our extended family.  GULP!

A lot of families, like mine, "struggle" (I am ashamed to write that word in this context) with conflicting pulls at Christmas (or any other holiday that involves gift-giving).  We want to make the holidays magical for our little ones, but don't want the presents to be the focus.  We want to teach the true meaning of the holiday, whether that is religious-based or simply the concept of giving, but we talk about Santa and wishlists, about our kiddos asking for and getting gifts.  We want to give everything we can to our children, but we don't want to raise entitled, spoiled kids who are so overwhelmed the morning of that they don't value or appreciate any of it.  

So how do we manage gift-giving holidays for kiddos?  I've been asking all the parents I know how they do it.  It seems I am not the only one who worries and struggles with balance.   Most parents I talked with have put a lot of thought into it.  This is what I’ve found.

Several families follow the "Four Gift" format.  That's, "one you want, one you need, one you wear, and one you read."   Not only does this format limit the number of gifts, once children are old enough to ask for things, it helps them discern between need and want and, when it comes to wants, to prioritize.  

Another family I chatted with makes sure their kids get two presents: one from Santa and one gift of an experience.  Santa's gift could be anything the child wants.  The experience, however, is from their family to their family, and may take the form of a family vacation or tickets to something they want to see.  All other presents come from their extended family.  

One mama I talked to found that what works best for her family is to buy everything she and her husband want to give their kids.  They wrap it all and put it under the tree – all to be unwrapped that morning.  After the gifts are unwrapped, they tell each child to pick two gifts to keep out for the day.  The rest they store for a different day, which often ends up being weeks and months down the road when the kids finally remember they exist.  The parents like this approach because the kids seem to value and care for the presents more and the "gifts keep on giving" through June.

Some families focus on gifts they make.  We do a modified version of this.  For example, while we also gift store-bought items, our little guy makes presents (sometimes ornaments, sometimes art, sometimes special cards) to give to family members and teachers.  He sees my mother and I doing the same. 

Another inspiring idea was giving the gift of service.   The gift is a promise to help gift recipient with a project of the recipient’s choosing.  Now that our little guy is becoming more of a boy than a toddler, I think we can start incorporating some version of this into his gift-giving.

One way some families offset the emphasis on gifts is by keeping alive their traditions and faith.  Whether it’s Christmas caroling, attending their church’s Christmas services, sponsoring families or children in need, or using an Advent scripture calendar (an Advent calendar that identifies daily Bible readings that culminate in the birth of Jesus), celebrating my family's traditions and faith as a family reminds us and our kids that there is more to the season than gifts. 

So back to my original question.  How can we manage gift-giving holidays for kiddos?  I think it comes down to doing what feels right for your family.  That may take trial and error to figure out.  And it certainly takes some thoughtful consideration.  In the meantime, the holiday is nearly upon us.  Enjoy the season and all it means for your family. 

Wishing you and yours a joyous holiday season and all the best in the upcoming year!

For tips on how to manage your child's gift expectations, click here.  For more information on how to avoid raising entitled children, click here.  

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