Christmas is the season of giving – but giving what, and how much? With so much marketing around Christmas children might expect the world unless you temper their expectations. It’s so easy to give in to all the marketing hype and children’s demands and desires, but gifts are only part of the Christmas story. Indeed the spirit of Christmas, in the non-religious sense, is about sharing family, food, time and gifts. It’s not all about the gifts.

However, in a world where marketing and parental guilt at not spending enough time with children collide, busy parents often feel they need to give presents to compensate for their lack of everyday presence. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Our time and attention are the two gifts our children want most of all. We should never lose sight of that.

When overspending backfires

While every family deals with gift-giving differently, you do need to make sure that you children get some of what they wish for most but not necessarily everything. There are few things worse for children than parents stressing over finances due to overspending to keep the kids happy. It’s difficult to keep that stress below the radar – it makes us snappy, irritable and not so nice to be with. This completely goes against the research that tells us that when our kids are with us they want less of our stress and more of our happiness.

Children need to know that certain gifts are delivered by Santa and others are provided by their mums and dads, other family members and friends. This ensures that you get to have the conversation that you can’t buy them everything that they want for Christmas. It’s just not doable.

Just four gifts

I’m currently in Australia for the festive season and I heard child psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg being interviewed on radio about the trend of spoiling children for Christmas and this was his advice – over and above the pressies from Santa, give them just four gifts:

  • One thing they really want
  • One thing they need
  • One thing to read
  • One thing to give to a charity in their name

While many parents lavish their children with presents in fear of disappointing them, or to keep up with their kids’ friends, or as a way of getting back at their ex, Raising Children executive director Associate Professor Julie Green was interviewed for an article in Australian newspaper The Daily Telegraph today, saying that setting realistic limits on what children can ask for was a “great topic for a family conversation and it doesn’t need to be just this time of year’’. Likewise she says quality time trumped expensive gifts.

“One of the best presents is their parent’s presence,’’ she says. And I couldn’t agree more.

The gift of your time and presence is the most important thing

Here are a few ways for spending some quality time with your children over the coming Christmas week on top of whatever gifts they get from you and Santa:

  • Have tea, rusks and cuddles in bed together in the mornings with no rush
  • Play hide ‘n seek in the house or garden
  • Cook or bake together
  • Spend time playing board games together – for something shorter try dice games and card games
  • Lie on your backs gazing up at the clouds and find pictures/characters in them
  • Go for a walk together
  • Ride bikes or scooters together
  • Splash each other in the pool
  • Fold and fly paper aeroplanes together
  • Read extra long bedtime stories together

It’s the feeling of togetherness that imprints itself in their hearts – the gifts are temporary, they just come and go.

So how many presents are you giving your children for Christmas? What do you think is reasonable?

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