My love language is buying and giving gifts to others that I know they will adore. I cannot resist seeing the perfect item for someone and not getting it for them. Though all well-intentioned, along the way, I accidentally set the expectation to my daughter that holidays and birthdays mean getting lots and lots of presents. I’ve started realizing that when we talk about upcoming celebrations, the conversation quickly turns into one about gifts over anything else special about that day.
I want to balance my daughter feeling special and getting things she’s excited about while making sure she doesn’t become spoiled and too materialistic. And the experts agree that over-gifting is something to avoid. According to Tim Kasser, a professor at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, who studies materialism and published the report “What Makes for a Merry Christmas?”, over-gifting children leads them to believe that “getting stuff” is crucial. People with an inclination toward materialistic values are more likely to be depressed and less likely to be empathetic.
I’m the one who set these over-gifting expectations, so it’s up to me to change them. With the holidays coming up, I know I need to tackle this explicitly and directly instead of decreasing the amount of gifts without saying anything. Without the context, in her mind, it would likely seem like a punishment. Along with the honest conversation, here is my plan for changing gift expectations this holiday season:
I’ll highlight the other fun parts of the holiday
This year, I am going to make a concerted effort to make our holiday traditions especially fun and memorable. I’ll also use the opportunity to talk about why these traditions are so special and such an important part of the holiday. The transition to fewer items will be less noticeable if we’re busy having a lot of fun with family and friends this Christmas—baking cookies, looking at holiday lights, watching holiday movies, enjoying a special meal, and more. According to Dr. Kasser’s report, “Adults are happier when their holidays are more about family and religion, and less so when they focus on spending money or receiving gifts.”
I’ll suggest experience gifts when making a wish list
To lessen the focus on material gifts, I’ll suggest experience gifts when she’s putting together her holiday wish list. When we come up with activities to add, we can talk about the friends or family members we can do these things with and how fun those memories will be. We’ll talk about how though this gift wouldn’t be an item, it’s just as good (if not better) than a toy from the shelves because we can spend time doing something we’ve never done before.
I’ll focus on quality over quantity
Somewhere along the way, a focus for my daughter was on how many items she could get. She was dazzled by commercials and ads she would see about the cool new toys of the season and couldn’t resist wanting them all. And it’s exhilarating to initially get these cool new toys—but after a while, they lose their allure and become part of the clutter of the playroom. This year, I want to talk about more special items to request so that they can become something more meaningful and permanent in our home. I’ll talk about how these items can typically be more expensive and that means fewer gifts, but that the quality overall is so much greater because we’ll cherish these things for many years.
We’ll spend some time together finding items to donate
Before making a wish list for the next holiday, we’ll spend some time decluttering the playroom and finding nice, gently used items that no longer get played with to donate to someone else. This time together will also be a good opportunity to converse about how some of these toys felt like must-haves but only held her interest for a short while. I think this will help the message of looking to add experience gifts and fewer, big-ticket items to the wish list resonate a little more because we’re putting the why into context.
I’ll try to pass on the love of gift-giving
I’m going to take my daughter with me when I do the gift shopping for the other people on my list, like my family and my husband’s family. We can talk about what we know about these special people in our lives and what things they might love to get. When she has a great idea and sees how much that person adores the gift she chose, she’ll see the magic in gift-giving instead of just receiving gifts.
It can be difficult to find the right balance when it comes to getting your kids gifts. It’s hard to resist showering your special little people with toys they’ll love. But an overabundance of items, and the expectation of getting them, is problematic. I don’t want my daughter to rest her happiness on the amount of material items she receives. Even though I’ve had trouble striking the right balance in the past, this year I’m focused on shifting my daughter’s gifting expectations by having some quality one-on-one conversations about all the other things we can find joy in during the holiday season.