Blame Santa. Christmas is a time for giving, but you’d never know it listening in on one of Kringle’s conversations.
For this reason, many kids see December 25 as a day to top up their toy box. And parents encourage it. Holiday sales account for 20 percent of all annual retail spending, with Americans generally shelling out over $600 billion on the festive season.
That’s a problem, says Annabella Hagan, a psychotherapist and clinical director at Mindset Family Therapy in Provo, Utah—but not an insurmountable one.
“In this era, it can be nearly impossible to create a family culture that does not include giving gifts to our children,” she says. “However, how it’s done makes all the difference.” Here’s your four-step plan.
Step #1: Reset the Tone
Parents need to ask themselves whether they are creating a culture where kids are expecting a lot of stuff. “If so, they should not be surprised if their children become entitled,” says Hagen.
You may have difficulty limiting the number of presents your child receives, but you can create a culture where your kids are grateful for whatever gifts they do receive. “Not only by saying ‘thank you’ to the giver,” says Hagen, “but also by helping children recognize the thought, effort, and love the giver may have put into the gift.”
The best way to do this? Personally model desired behavior and attitudes. “Remember, it’s better to see a sermon than hear one,” says Hagen.
Step #2: Make Them Sacrifice
“Children can be taught and encouraged to save money for Christmas so they can purchase a gift for a child who has less than they do,” suggests Hagen. “Or they can be spurred on to share one of the many gifts they get with another kid who may have less.”
Doing this anonymously means they’re not doing it for praise or to look good in front of their peers. As Hagen explains, acts like this can deepen a child’s sense of gratitude and allow them a better handle on the good feeling that comes with giving.
Step #3: Start No-Gift Traditions
This can be anything from a New Year’s Day hike to a cookie bake-athon on Christmas Eve. But Hagen also recommends establishing traditions that involves giving in other ways.
“Go caroling as a family in a different neighborhood,” she suggests. “Or have the children make cards for a local nursing or retirement home. Make arrangements to visit with the elderly as you’re dropping off the cards.”
Whatever the tradition you decide on, Hagen reminds parents not to make it feel like a duty. “Get creative and make it fun,” she says.
Step #4: Give a Gift That Has Real Value
Ask most kids what they want for Christmas, and they’ll likely recite a list as long as your arm. Ask most adults what they remember about their childhood Christmas and they’ll likely reflect back on a special family moment.
This, says Hagen, is because, “a parent’s time is the most valuable gift they have to offer. Toys and things are important to kids, but building memories and spending time together will always be the best present parents can give to their children.”
To create a Santa sack’s worth of memories, Hagen says parents need to put as much time into planning activities as they do into planning presents. And yes, a list will help.
“Most of us remember Christmas in terms of the fun we had,” she says. “We may remember a toy here and there, but most of the time, it’s about what we did and who was there.
Giving your kids a holiday to remember makes you the best parent ever, so go ahead, reward yourself with some getting: The 11 Best Gifts for Spartans.
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