Skip to main content

Today's Family Magazine

How to balance receiving with giving

By Sandi Schwartz
One of the key challenges of holiday time is that our children get so used to receiving oodles of gifts that they begin to expect that they will always get more and more.  But have you noticed how quickly they lose interest with many of the toys they receive during the holidays?  Showering our children with gifts every year can end up being detrimental if they become numb to the excitement of gifts, and if they only focus on the receiving side of the holidays.  There are several ways that we can instill some balance so that our children learn to appreciate what they receive while also giving to others.    
Express gratitude
Gratitude is one of the most important ways for us to get a happiness boost, providing us with so many wonderful psychological, physical, and interpersonal benefits.  It improves our health, reduces stress, and helps us focus on the positive aspects of life.  Teaching our kids how to step back and be thankful for what they have will keep them grounded and help them realize just how lucky they are to be receiving toys and other gifts at holiday time.
You can encourage your kids to express their gratitude for the gifts they receive by writing thank you notes to friends and relatives.  You can also go around the dinner table and invite everyone to say how grateful they are for each gift and why it is so meaningful to them.  Finally, one of the most popular and effective ways to express gratitude is through journaling.  It encourages our kids to acknowledge the positive moments in their day, no matter how insignificant they may seem.  Consider giving them their own gratitude journal this holiday season so they have the perfect place to record what they are thankful for, including their holiday gifts and other special moments throughout the year.
Learn that less is more
How many dolls does one little girl really need?  If you dig through your children’s old toys, you may be taken aback by how many of each item they actually have: multiple puzzles, games, cars, trucks, plastic figures, and art supplies. It never ends.  When they are showered with too many presents, it reduces the interest value of each toy very quickly. According to Kim John Payne in “Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids,” kids who are inundated with toys are so overwhelmed that they are unable to play by themselves and can even develop focus issues.
It is so important to teach our children how to pick and choose a few special gifts that they would like and to not go overboard.  Parenting coach Carla Naumburg developed a fabulous poem to inspire the types of presents to give to children for the holidays that helps make each gift meaningful.  This approach goes beyond just the obvious toys that children typically want, allowing both parents and children to be more creative with gifts.

Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read. 
Something to see, something to spare, something to cook, something to share.

Choose experiences over stuff
Research over the last decade shows that experiences make us happier than possessions.  Instead of always giving our kids gifts that they can hold in their hand, why not try a new experience that will provide them with a memory for a lifetime? It doesn’t have to be an expensive family vacation to Disney World; it can be a simple activity close by that you can enjoy together.  Here are some ideas that your kids will love:
  • Enjoy nature by visiting a zoo or garden, going camping or hiking, or trying out skiing or snowboarding.
  • Show them the excitement of the city by visiting historical monuments, exploring museums, going out to a fancy restaurant, or attending a concert or sporting event.
  • Expand their knowledge by signing them up for an art class, music lesson, or dance class.
Give to those less fortunate
The holiday season can quickly turn into a shopping spree if we are not careful. But this is a particularly critical time of year to remember those who are not able to celebrate the holidays like we are with piles of gifts.  December is the perfect time to clean out the playroom and practice some giving.  Spend some time each year going through every nook and cranny to weed out the old toys before you bring in the new ones. Ask your children to collect piles of items to recycle, throw away, and donate.  When the children choose from their own pile of toys, they gain a powerful hands-on experience to learn about that balance between giving and receiving.

After you do this exercise a few times, your kids will automatically realize that no matter what new gifts they receive, they will choose some that they no longer play with to give to children who may not get any presents at all.  This is a habit that everyone can easily add to their holiday traditions.

You can also start to encourage your children to forgo a new gift or two to purchase items for those in need.  Look for a holiday toy drive in your community to support and take your kids along with you to purchase the items and to deliver them to the charity.