In this economy, it’s not difficult for many families to decide to cut back on gift giving, in fact, for many it’s just a necessity! But for several families, it would be a hard decision to make. Especially, in large families with loads of aunts, uncles, and grandparents who just want to give the children something special for the holidays. It’s a form of showing our affection. The more presents, the more a child is loved, right?
Unfortunately, with this attitude, the impact on the children is barely considered. But, is it better to cut back on presents for our kids? Or should we continue to shower them with gifts? For me, it was an interesting question, so I dug in and did a little research. And, by the end of this article, hopefully, I will have steered you in the right direction too.
Whether it’s for financial reasons or for convenience, giving fewer presents at Christmas is beneficial to all, especially the child.
So, what’s a good rule for gift giving at Christmas? Frugal parents and people who live by the Montessori philosophy have been sharing this list of 4 gifts around social media for quite some time:
Gift 1: Something they want
Gift 2: Something they need
Gift 3: Something to wear
Gift 4: Something to read
My first reaction to this list was, “damn, this is boring!” I love watching my kids tear open their presents with the excitement of a Pitbull ripping apart a new pillow. However, over the years I have noticed that it doesn’t matter if we give our kids 2 or 3 presents or 10, they eventually forget them all.
So, I took another look at the list and thought: “how do you know what they want without asking them?” I mean, doesn’t this take all the fun out of being surprised by the gifts they unwrap?
But my research came up with some pretty amazing facts. And I was amazed at how little I knew about all the effects presents have on kids. I learned that by following these rules, not only do we become more responsible gift-givers but also better parents. By the end of this article, you will be a little wiser and, if you follow these rules, a little wealthier.
However, I would add an addendum to this list, a 5th gift. Something challenging, like a more complex version of a beloved toy, Legos or model building for example. But let’s dive into the nuts and bolts this practice.
How do I find the perfect presents for my kids?
At a time like Christmas, when people have very little time to think of gifts for their family, especially their children, it’s very common to look to social trends or gift-giving ideas in the web.
But with Montessori, the approach is different. It is focused on what the child wants and needs, depending on what developmental phase they are in. This being the case, you will find no ideas in this post for buying presents for your kids, sorry.
How do you come up with ideas then? How do I know what they want or need? The answers are quite simple actually: rely on them for those ideas.
Do they enjoy dressing up their dolls? Do they like working with their hands? Building things? Are they a toddler or tween? What issues are they having in school? Terrible at math or chemistry? But great in art or music? Are they generous by nature or do they have trouble sharing?
The point is, by observing our kids proclivities and talents, they provide us with the best ideas for gifts.
This is data that no blog or YouTube video can ever hope to match.
In our case, my older son is a little mud monkey. He loves playing in the dirt and moving rocks and dirt around. We got him a bulldozer. My younger son climbs on everything (yes, we have had some close calls on the jungle gym). We got him a rope net and mounted it on the wall of his bedroom and put an old mattress on the floor. Now he can swing to his heart’s content.
Fact is, we need to reinforce their natural desires and talents in order to give them things they will appreciate and help them develop. This way we will have a lot less toys to donate as they grow up.
When do I start enforcing these rules?
Start them young with the 5 gift rule. The older they get the more they will expect the usual number of presents. Kids grow accustomed to a certain amount of gift giving and this can make it quite difficult when you cut all those gifts down to just a few.
Their friends may always get more than them, but they will be used to it and hopefully not give you so much grief if you have started this habit early enough in their lives.
But if they are older than 5 or 6 and have grown accustomed to a certain number of gifts, this is a great time for them to be learning about gratitude, compassion and saving money. Explaining the meaning of these terms with illustrative anecdotes will help you in the process.
For a dose of reality, take them down to the local homeless shelter on Christmas and have them volunteer at the soup kitchen.
Let them see how many people, children included, spend their Christmas day. Many children do without presents. Protecting our children from this harsh reality only does them a disservice.
How do you think those 5 gifts will look to them after one of those experiences? I suspect it might put things into perspective. So many other people have it much worse than we do. We should be thankful for that which we receive and always try to pay it forward.
How do you escape the guilt?
It’s normal to experience guilt when making the switch to a simpler lifestyle. We always want the best for our children. But what needs re-evaluating is the very definition of what is good for our children: more material objects? Or more responsible behavior?
Knowing the negative impact of excessive gift-giving on kids and learning the benefits of less-is-more might help mitigate this guilt. The following section will shed some light on these effects.
Negative impact 1: It makes them greedy
This is a no-brainer as far as I’m concerned. Getting a ton of presents just makes the kids want more. They end up only caring about stuff, rather than the true spirit of Christmas, which is spending time with family and giving, not only receiving, gifts.
Obviously, a young child is not going to go out and buy things for their family, but if you start the lesson of gift giving, it will have long-lasting effects on your kids. We buy little toys for each of our kids and tell them it’s for your brother and you are going to give it to him.
It’s up to you to deal with the Santa Claus myth, but in the end, it’s much better for your kids. After they learn that the joy they see on their siblings face came from them, they’ll want to do it again and again.
Negative impact 2: Low self-esteem
It’s an unfortunate result of our superficial society, we think the more we have the happier we are. And kids who get too many gifts learn this unfortunate principle from a very young age. If they have less than their friends, they feel worse about themselves, or worse, about you their parent. Their sense of identity shifts from what they do to what the have and they become a mess psychologically.
In his article on excessive gift giving in Psychology Today, Sean Grover L.C.S.W, writes that kids score much higher on self-esteem assessment tests if they have few material possessions and better personal relationships with family and friends. Makes sense, no?
So, it’s our job as parents to teach our kids that relationships are better than things. Playing with toys AND friends is always better than playing alone.
Negative impact 3: causes addictive behavior
Think of ripping presents open as a drug for little brains. Children who get too many presents display the same addictive behavior as drug addicts, they can never get enough!
A study from the University of Missouri showed that these kids are more likely to experience adverse effects which carry on to the adult phase of their life. Drug addiction, gambling, excessive debt, all are possible side-effects of getting too many presents.
Think about it, it’s the same when we over-eat or get an overdose of chocolate. We’re going for the endorphins, and that’s exactly what the kids go through.
The benefits of less-is-more
Less is more sounds very generic, I know. But if you’re going to give fewer presents, then you have to make them more meaningful. This is the other reason why we should get to know our kids. If you happen to nail a few really good presents, then they will be much happier than a mountain of crap toys.
If you’re still having difficulty in coming up with ideas then consider these: creativity toys, practical life toys, sensory toys, and your kid’s predilections.
If a toy allows your child to unlock a hidden talent, they will be more than satisfied with fewer toys.
Toys which can be built upon or added to with time and skill are very attractive for kids because they can look forward to playing and increasing their skills and thereby self-esteem.
It’s been proven in study after study that materialism only leads to future problems for kids. So, what do we do? We shift our focus from receiving to giving. Teaching generosity, gratitude and the importance of personal relationships all trump a ton of presents any day.
In fact, the best present we could give our children is more time. Work on spending quality time with them, not just doing homework or having dinner. Quality time, sometimes, that’s all they want.
How to get the relatives on board
There’s nothing more frustrating than going through all the trouble of teaching your children less is more than having some family members destroy it all with a ton of gifts. After all, what are you going to do? Throw them out?
Well, actually, yes! Not literally of course. But by sticking to the generosity program, we can use this opportunity to box up a lot of those gifts and head down to the homeless shelter or the Goodwill and give them away.
Have your child do the actual delivering and donating of their presents.
This is great practice for the kids and really shows them first hand what it feels like to give rather than receive.
Now in order to avoid excess in the first place, it might be good to talk to your family ahead of time, either casually or formally, depending on their resistance. By having a candid conversation about the type of gifts you had planned for the kids, they may catch on to the style of parenting you are evoking in your house.
And if all else fails, just pile up all the toys and let the kids choose the 4 or 5 they want, need, can wear, can read or challenges them. All others are superfluous.