‘Tis the season of giving, or so every single possible advertising arena tells us right now. Unfortunately, as every parent knows, advertisers carefully craft and manipulate this season of giving to build a sense of urgency and obligation. And many of us fall prey to it year after year.
My lightbulb moment about holiday gifts came about ten years ago. That summer, I was doing a giant closet clean-out in the kids’ bedrooms, and in the back of my older daughter’s closet, I found five gifts from the previous Christmas.
No one had ever even taken them out of their packaging. They were brand new, shoved in the back of a closet without a thought. They had all come from one of the grandparents and probably represented a total of at least $100 spent from her small, fixed income. And not one of the kids had opened them.
I was angry and ashamed. And then angry again. Our change in gifting started right then.
Gifting with Thoughtfulness
One way parents can combat the social pressures to buy all the things (in the name of love, right?) is to flip the script in our homes. If we intentionally work to shift our kids’ focus from getting to giving, we can help them grow into thoughtful, conscientious gifters.
But as anyone who has watched their little one circle everything in the Target catalog or discovered a bunch of teen-desired items “saved for later” in their Amazon cart can tell you, flipping the script is much easier said than done.
And let’s face it. Getting presents is pretty dang fun. And watching your child’s face light up when they unwrap new toys is a thrill. Until you find those in the aforementioned closet six months later.
So, how do we shift gears from giving and receiving out of obligation to giving with intention and purpose? And equally important, how do we guide our children to do the same?
Here are my top tips for raising conscientious gifters.
1. Watch the words you use.
When a friend’s birthday party is approaching, you might catch yourself urgently saying, “We have to get them a present!” And your body language and tone of voice are likely to show stress at this added chore in your day. (Guilty over here!)
By verbalizing the “have to” mentality, we help our children equate gift-giving with obligation rather than intention. And we also establish the idea that gifting has to include a purchased item of some sort.
To avoid this sense of obligation, you can try something like this with your child: “Your friend’s birthday is soon. Let’s talk about activities they really enjoy as we think about a present for them.” This reframe helps put the focus on bringing joy to the recipient.
2. Focus on gifts at unexpected times.
The mad gifting rush during the holiday season is unhealthy all around. It adds stress to our already-busy lives and can place a significant financial burden on families.
One fun shift toward intentional gifting is letting your children see you surprise your loved ones with gifts at random times of the year, just because you found an item or activity you know they will love. These presents are usually far more meaningful than the obligatory holiday and birthday gifts.
3. Put a pause on the wish lists.
Ok, I get it. Seeing your emerging writer make a list for Santa, with backward letters and adorable spelling errors, is fun. I’ve saved my kids’ lists because they are so cute!
But a small shift families can make is to help our children brainstorm gifts they’d love to give other people before making their own wish lists. For young kids, you’ll probably need to help guide this a bit, but older children should be able to come up with some ideas on their own.
This little habit can help the whole family focus on intentional giving during the holidays but still allows kids the fun of wishing and dreaming as they write their lists.
It’s never too late to change in how we handle things in our families. So if you’d like to move toward more conscientious giving, now is the perfect time to start!