I knew we were in trouble the year my kids asked for a piece of paper to make their Christmas lists—and then asked for another and another. When I asked what all the paper was for, my oldest looked at me confused. “Because how are we supposed to fit everything we want for Christmas onto just one page?” he said.
While it’s understandable for kids to be excited about presents at Christmastime, at our house, it was clear that the focus had become purely on the getting with little thought to the giving.
It was time for an intervention.
There are lots of ways to help your kids learn about giving, but I wanted to start with the idea of generosity within our family. So began the tradition of a solo shopping outing for each child with the goal of buying a Christmas present for their sibling.
“The focus had become purely on the getting with little thought to the giving. It was time for an intervention.“
I won’t lie—a trip to the toy store where they weren’t allowed to get anything for themself was a hard sell at first. It was painful to drag them away from the aisles that housed the toys they wanted for themselves, and I quickly tired of reminding them to “Think about what your brother would want, not you.”
My primary goal with this holiday tradition was to shift the seasonal focus from getting to giving, which I’m pleased to say has happened. But it’s also paid off in many more ways than I could have ever imagined. Here are the benefits of my kids buying presents for each other at Christmas.
It helped them understand how much things cost and how to budget.
Toys are expensive, especially the ones my kids favor, like LEGOS and anything remote control. But before, they had no sense of this as they tore the wrapping paper off a new gift—and why would they? I’d never exposed them to how much things cost or the idea of a budget.
In shopping for each other, however, they experienced a serious reality check in discovering that a “small” LEGO Star Wars set cost double the money I’d given them to spend. “But it’s smaller than my lunchbox!” commented my 6-year-old. Indeed.
It also introduced the idea of taxes, which nearly reduced my oldest son to tears when he discovered that the train depot he wanted to purchase for his younger brother for $39.99 rang up closer to $43, putting it over his budget. (I considered the lesson learned and made up the difference on that one.)
Kids buying presents for each other builds empathy.
Giving plays a significant role in developing empathy, or the ability to see the world through the eyes of another person and appreciate their needs and feelings. And while most young children are just beginning to develop their empathy muscle, buying someone a present forces this in a very concrete way.
Instead of asking my son the sometimes too-abstract, “How do you think that would make your brother feel?” I was able to pose questions like, “Does your brother like Paw Patrol as much as you do?” and “Who likes playing with Hot Wheels more, you or your brother?” Eventually, this helped them realize that they needed to focus less on themselves and more on the other person.
It may contribute to their longer-term happiness, health, and success.
In his book, Give and Take, Adam Grant synthesizes years of research pointing to the fact that “givers” are not only more successful in their careers than other people but also happier. According to Grant, “Givers are generous: they strive to bring out the best in others.” He also finds that a focus on concern for others leads to a stronger sense of purpose, deeper learning, and richer relationships. It follows then that along with fueling achievement, caring also boosts happiness.
In addition to happiness and success, other studies have found the positive benefits of generosity also include better overall health and delayed mortality.
It’s made a habit of thinking about others.
My kids’ awareness of how others are feeling has increased substantially. They now regularly say things like, “Let’s get Daddy the chocolate donut because it’s his favorite,” or “Let’s go to the park with the coffee cart, Mommy, because I know you really like it.” And while their increased attention to others may be due to them getting older and more mature, I like to think it also has at least something to do with our Christmas shopping ritual.
My kids buying presents for each other has strengthened their relationship.
Thinking more actively about each other’s preferences has helped my children come up with ways to play together that now last more than 20 minutes and don’t end in tears. This time spent together has bonded them in ways they weren’t before. They’re also more willing to compromise on which television show to watch or which bedtime story to read first. All-in-all, they’re much more generous with each other and get along better as a result (most of the time).
One of my favorite moments on Christmas morning is now watching my kids open their presents from each other. When they do, it’s hard to tell who is more excited, the child opening the gift or the one who can’t wait to witness the joy the gift they selected brings their sibling. I’m proud they’ve learned not only the meaning of generosity but also the joy of bringing a smile to someone else’s face. That’s a gift that will truly keep on giving.