Humble Holidays – How Not to Over-Gift Your Kids

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Allen family counselingEvery year, we’re inundated with ads for the hottest new toys. We see news stories chronicling holiday gift-giving madness, as normally sane people charge into stores to grab the last remaining nearly-sold-out toy on the shelf. Holiday movies depict the best times as when the children get the most gifts. The truth is that too much of this can be damaging. It’s time to reassess how gifts work in your household.

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How Much Is Too Much?

Answers to this question run the gamut, ranging from completely ditching material gifts during the holidays, to the notion that lots of presents are just part of the season and do no harm, since it’s a time to get what you want. Wherever you stand on the topic, the truth is that there is indeed such a thing as too much. What you want to avoid is your child believing that material possessions mean unequivocal happiness and fulfillment.
Neutral self-evaluation always helps. Try to get a sense of what your world looks like from the outside by seeing what other parents are doing for the holidays. Is the kid whose mother you know from the PTA getting twice as many gifts as your child? Are they getting less? See how you feel about that fact and apply it to your own philosophy. Another good tactic is to review your budget. An easy indicator of too much is if you’re going into to debt to buy your kid everything they want.

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Consider the Nature of the Gift

There’s a difference between materialism and enrichment. Meredith Ethington of Scary Mommy begs well-meaning adults to stop gifting her kids toys since they end up in a wasteland of clutter and are barely played with. It’s the classic more is better mentality, but this kind of worldview is toxic at its core. Happiness does not mean “more stuff,” but if your kids see this every holiday season, the expectation be ingrained into them. Scary Mommy also proposes a solution, though, and that’s to gift kids things that they’ll remember and enjoy. This doesn’t mean material items, but rather activities that they can engage in, such as karate lessons or art classes.

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Understanding What Your Kid Really Values

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This isn’t to say that toys during the holidays should be banned altogether. Kids play in different ways, and as you reassess how gifts are doled out in your household, take note of what they seem to actually enjoy doing. Dallas area counselors actually count play therapy as an essential avenue of communication for children, especially ones who are young enough to not be able to articulate their emotions in words. So, what do your kids actually play with in their own time? If the answer is that you have a giant toy bin full of stuff that’s collecting dust, then they probably don’t need more.

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Controlling Outside Gift Givers

Relatives love to dote on children, whether it’s a niece, nephew, or grandchild. However, the go-to token of affection for many people, especially during the holidays, is a tangible gift. If you’re looking to cut back on the material stuff this year, Huffington Post gives the advice you’ll want to tell your family and friends upfront and well in advance. They may react with shock and despair. This often stems from a combination of personal offense, since many people don’t know how to express emotion toward children without a gift, but also deprivation. How could you deny a child the toy they want during the holidays? Well, the answer is that you’re not denying them anything if that toy is going to set a bad example. If your kid isn’t even going to remember they own it the day after they open the wrapping paper, much less use it, it’s not worth having.

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If you decide to scale back on gift giving, or change up the types of gifts your kids receive, be prepared for some short term fallout. Children can be very stubborn about what they feel, think, or want, which can have detrimental effects. Learning how to communicate with your children on their level is helped immensely by using Allen family counseling services. A child may throw a tantrum when they don’t receive instant gratification by getting a toy they’ve seen on TV, but know that in the long run it’s for the best.

About the Author:

Jennifer Slingerland Ryan knows a thing or two about kids and families. First, she knows they are joyous, exhilarating, loving and so darn fun. Second, she knows they suck your life dry and make you weep like a baby. By day she’s a psychotherapist; by night she’s a mom and wife. She claims to love therapizing couples, educating parents, reading dystopian fiction and sleeping in her free time (read: she never sleeps). Jennifer has spent over 12 years in private practice working with individuals, couples, and parents who are faced with kid-drama, mamma-drama, and family-drama, and she claims that although some stories make a grown woman cry, she loves it.