Happy Holiday Gift Giving


Christmas - pinterest  The holiday season is usually very overwhelming and stressful for children; different    rules/boundaries, large gatherings of people involving friends and/or family, and an  overload of visual and or auditory stimulus are a few of the primary culprits.  Parents need  to be tuned in to their children so they can slow down activities, provide for quite time and  or space, and establish a safe emotional environment with clear boundaries and  communication that shows the child their feelings matter.  Establishing traditions that the  children can look forward to can go a long way towards giving the children a sense of  anticipation as well as grounding them during this stressful and hectic time.

The “elephant” in the room at Christmas that appears to causes the most stress, worry, and challenges for parents are presents.  Do I give gifts or not?  How much should I spend?   How do I deal with social expectations and pressures?  How many presents can I give before I cause my children to become greedy?  Why are my kids so ungrateful or selfish?  I am so tired of the meltdowns; why is Christmas morning so stressful?  Below are some ideas that over the years I have found to be very successful.


Table of Contents

1. Social Pressures – Presents

Giving thoughtful and interesting gifts is a great way to help your children see themselves as individuals with individual interests, talents and tastes.

2. Budget – Children Do Not Understand Cost

Young children do not understand the concept of cost.

3. Presents – Equal Numbers Matter

From your child’s point of view, equal numbers of gifts appears to mean equally loved.

4. Create Christmas Traditions With Your Children

Christmas morning, for all the anticipated joy, can easily and rapidly collapse into tears unless parents establish some type of guidelines.

5. Gift Opening Adventure

Opening gifts in a mad free-for-all can be too emotionally overwhelming for children.

6. How to Deal With Numbers of Gifts

Children need enough presents to unwrap; this can be accomplished by individually wrapping items that came together in one box.

7. My Kids Won’t Share Their New Toys

Children’s brains are not developed enough to be able to share, especially during stressful times as seen during the holiday season.

8. How To Handle Meltdowns

Children are not little adults – Stop, then listen.

Closing Thoughts


1. Social Pressures – Presents
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Today, due to the highly commercial nature of Christmas and social pressures that children face, it can be very very difficult to navigate the hotly debated topic of presents.  I feel if at all possible it is important that children receive at Christmas time; not gobs and gobs but thoughtful and interesting gifts.  This is a great opportunity to help your children see themselves as individuals with individual interests, talents and tastes.  It is also important to choose gifts that the child finds engaging, both by themselves and with others.

A friend of mine reminds me often that gift giving was difficult and painful for him because his memory trace was of getting lots of “things” that were not interesting to him but based on what his parents thought he should get or be interested in.

Social pressures are very difficult to deal with.  But helping your child to focus on who they are and what their individual interests are can help navigate this difficult area and can help guide you to giving gifts that will fulfill the child’s need to receive.


2. Budget – Children Do Not Understand Cost
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Young children do not have the cognitive ability to understand how much things cost nor have I found that this interests them.

In purchasing gifts for my children, it was first decided how much the overall budget was (even with this I have been guilty of over spending).  I then compiled a list of items for each child that would further their interests, consider their wants and meet their needs.

As my children grew in to the teenage years and developed an understanding of cost I became concerned that they would have issues if one child’s gifts were more expensive.  Following conversations with both children they were able to reassure me that inequality in cost was not something they paid attention to.  They were more concerned that each of them received gifts that were fulfilling, interesting and appropriate for each of them as individuals.


3. Presents – Equal Numbers Matter
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In my experience, both growing up and with my children, it was not the cost, not the size of the gifts, and not large numbers of gifts that mattered.  What mattered was that the number of presents each child received was the same.  The same number went into each stocking and under the tree.  Somehow, equal numbers appeared to mean equally loved.  This way there was no unintended message that one child was more favored over another.


4. Create Christmas Traditions With Your Children
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Christmas morning, for all the anticipated joy, can easily and rapidly collapse in to chaos and meltdowns unless the parents provide boundaries, guidelines and some type of order.  Establishing some type of routine that includes engaging the children such as: helping older or younger members move to the tree; getting boxes or bags for wrapping paper; and/or establishing and helping younger siblings establish “their own special space” for unwrapping and gathering their gifts.  After everyone is present, pause, set guide lines or ground rules as to the order of presents or how everyone is going take turns handing out gifts “playing Santa”.  Parents really need to put some thought into what will work for the family.  In case things do slide sideways be ready to stop, reorganize, and calm and manage the excitement.

When visiting relatives, having traditions or routines established helps children know what to expect.  Growing-up, I remember Christmas morning at my grandparents: my cousins and I would help grandma (in her words get underfoot), then we would eat after which the grandkids would quietly entertain themselves while the adults finished philosophizing on the topic of the day, grandpa would then move to the organ for a family Christmas carol sing along, after which gifts were opened and pictures taken in front of the fireplace.  This routine was comforting, something we could look forward to, and gave 18-20 people from 3 generations a framework in which we were able to enjoy each other’s company in the spirit and family traditions of our annual Christmas celebration.


5. Gift Opening Adventure
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Picture this – heaps of wrapping paper and gifts and … silence.  Emotionally drained people staring around the room with bewildered looks on their faces wondering what just happened.  Christmas gifts are opened, now what…  Is it possible to open gifts so fast nothing is enjoyed or able to be really seen?  I think so…

There are many different ideas and techniques that can help to slow down the pace of present opening:

Allow children to take turns playing Santa.

    • one gift per turn
    • they get to pick a gift from under the tree to give to someone.
    • this gives them the experience of giving, even thought the gift may not have been from them.

Give gifts one at a time

    • encourage each individual to engage in receiving their gifts and thanking the giver.
    • allow others to see the gift
    • if the gift receiver wishes to spend time with the gift – let them, others can continue
    •  young children, under the age of 3 generally have a very difficult time taking turns and having patience.  With all the stimulation, I found my young children happily co-existing in a parallel play mode where they were both in their own little universe while opening and engaging with their gifts at the same time.  This does not mean that the kids were opening, setting the gift aside and moving on until all gifts were open.  This did mean that a gift was unwrapped and a parent helped open packaging because the child was interested in playing with the item.  After blissfully checking out the new item for a while the child was ready for another gift.

Write hints on each gift and have everyone engage in guessing the gift from the clue before it is opened.

    • This can make for lively interaction.
    • peoples curiosity encourages their interest in other peoples gifts

My mother wrote clues for our presents. I introduced this to my children when they were about 4 or 5 and to this day, they are now 18 and 20, this is a tradition they value. Today they get as much pleasure creating the hints or clues as they do trying to solve them.

Opening gifts is not about how fast it can be done.  Opening gifts is about receiving a new item that should catch the person’s interest and/or engage them in an activity, so let that happen.


6. How to Deal With Numbers of Gifts
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There lay our son and daughter on the living room floor, wrapped gifts still could be seen peeking out from under the Christmas tree.  In our son’s hands and on the carpet in front of him were matchbox cars.  In our daughter’s hands and on the carpet by her were toy horses. Both of them were talking out loud to themselves totally absorbed in their own worlds as they compared their items.  It had not been much earlier that morning that our young son and daughter were jumping on our bed announcing with excitement it was Christmas morning and they were ready to find out what Santa had placed under the tree. As they had entered the living room their eyes sparkled and they jumped around as they looked at “all those gifts”.

That Christmas we did not have a lot of money.  As I went to wrap the gifts, I wanted to make sure my kids felt that while they had been involved with finding gifts for children from a giving tree, they mattered also.  I had found a box with 30 hot wheel cars and a stable with 24 horses. These were items my children were interested in and loved to play with, at that time.  Instead of wrapping each box I wrapped each car and horse separately.  Those individually wrapped cars and horses added to some other gifts lit up there almost 3 and 4 year old eyes.

After determining they had equal numbers, they started to open their gifts. As the cars and horses were unwrapped one at a time they were inspected and observations of color, shape and size were made.  Each new addition was carefully compared to the ones already unwrapped. Because each item was added separate from the others the children were able to engage with it.  If I had wrapped the box of cars and stalls of horses each as one gift (30 cars and 24 horses) they would have been set aside as it was too much visual stimulus to take in at one time. As it was, they stopped unwrapping gifts before they had received all the cars and horses.

They asked if they could be done opening gifts.  I told them that was fine with me.  By their own choice, they checked that they had the same number unopened and then went off and played.  Over the next few days they would finish opening their gifts, usually doing it together as that was important to them.

Kid’s brains do not function the way adult brains do. That Christmas, my kids who were almost 3 and 4, taught me valuable lessons.    Children’s brains have short attention spans and skip around a lot.  They can only take in so much excitement and “new” stimulus before they need to do something else.  By taking gifts out of the packaging, multiple gifts can be made of one purchase fulfilling a young child’s need to open gifts.  By individually wrapping the toys the kids were able to stop and control the “new toy stimulus” so as not be become over whelmed.   Their perception is they got lots of gifts while the parents view is they received a box of cars and a stable of horses.

Don’t forget boxes are great toys for the young as well.  How many times have you heard stories or seen video that shows the child preferring to play with the box rather than the toy that came in it.  Wrap it up! Give it as a gift, why not?  This window of opportunity will only last for a few years, use it.


7. My Kids Won’t Share Their New Toys
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The parent absentmindedly reached down and picked up one of the child’s new toys.  In an instant that child was by the parent grabbing at the toy and throwing a temper tantrum.  Thrown off guard, the parent immediately sees the child as selfish and out-of- line, and the parent responds with the usual discipline for the perceived poor behavior.  Was the child out-of-line or is the parent reacting from an adult point of view and forgetting to understand what the child can give emotionally.

A child’s reluctance to letting others play with their toys is often viewed as “selfishness” by adults, it is not.  The child’s brain is not developed enough to be able to share according to the adult’s requirements or views.  This needs to be not only ok but respected.

Before gifts are up-wrapped each child needs to have a place to put “their gifts” so that they are clearly seen as theirs. It needs to be clearly understood that no one is allowed to touch anything that is not theirs without the owner’s permission, and that the owner has the right to say no and to expect that to be respected.  This includes well meaning adults taking a child’s toy and offering it to another child. This may not seem like much to an adult but it is a big thing to a child. (have them read this blog!).

To minimize children’s stress at your Christmas gathering, have children play with their own toys and provide other toys that are designated, from the beginning, to be shared.


8. How To Handle Meltdowns
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First and most important – stop – then listen to what your child is saying whether it is through his words or actions.  You do not have to agree with his interpretation of what is going on but you do need to listen.  Remove him from the situation if necessary but go with him and try to understand the situation from his point of view, His concern may very well be something you had not thought of.  Ask him questions; tell him you are trying to understand.  If you are struggling to understand what he is trying to communicate to you, ask him to show you.  Remember his/her maturity level might not be able to handle all that is going on and he/she might just need a quiet moment to calm down.  If necessary, before returning or continuing, clearly give boundaries of acceptable behavior.  Offer options and support if another meltdown arises.

Children are not little adults.  Do not tell them how they are feeling or should feel.  Find out how they feel and work with them to resolve the situation on their level.


Closing Thoughts
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With understanding, traditions, and an engaging festive atmosphere Christmas morning can leave a life time of positive, warm, and happy memories for your children.

Today, I find my children not asking for much at Christmas.  What they do ask for is specific to their interests and aspirations.  While at 18 and 20 they are more cognizant of expenses, they do not compare how much we spend on each nor do we offer to tell them; no longer does equal number of gifts matter.  They know the gifts they receive are because of who they are, and what their interests are.  They enjoy finding and giving gifts that they feel the recipient will enjoy.  But most importantly, they view the giving and receiving of gifts as only one piece of the traditions and joy of the holiday season.

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