It takes a great dealing of planning and hard work on the
part of parents to make Christmas a season of joy and giving
instead of a season of disharmony and getting. The most
successful strategy is for the family to develop, while the
children are very young, traditions that embody the concept of
good will and sharing.
One nice family tradition to encourage is for each family
member to make gifts for every other member. Children should not
buy ready-made gifts at the store. Instead they should be
encouraged to contribute gifts of their own making. The
expenditure of money for things mass produced cannot compete with
the loving investment of one’s own time and imagination on a gift
which becomes very personal. Even very young children can make
pictures and cards for each member of the family. Older children
can write stories or poems or make something at school.
Preparing for Christmas in this way also makes a nice alternative
to watching television.
Of course, it is difficult to abandon purchased gifts
entirely, but there should be a traditional limit on how many
gifts will be bought. Some parents have difficulty with this
idea because they feel they have the money so why not buy
everything the child has on the wish-list. They are afraid of
disappointing the child. There are several reasons why I feel
differently. For one thing, the child’s list is greatly
influenced by what he or she sees on television. In many cases
it is false advertising and children are often disappointed with
the real thing. Many parents realize this, and feel the gift is
inappropriate, but buy it anyway because the child insists.
Since many of the toys advertised this year are for solitary
play, the result of the parents giving in might be that an
opportunity is lost for parents to introduce more apppropriate
toys for the child’s social development. Also, the child is
learning to manipulate the parents and the parents are losing an
opportunity to help children become informed consumers and not be
influenced by advertising.
To avoid disappointment, parents should let children know
early that they will use their own judgment in choosing gifts
that are appropriate and limited in number. Children may be
disappointed the first time around, but if the adults are
consistent and firm, the children learn to abide by the rules.
Do not be swayed by crying and the fact that everybody else has
the toy. If you as an adult feel it is inappropriate, then do
not buy it. Act as an adult, not as a child. It is adult
behavior children must see as a model for their own development.
When children receive gifts from many adults like
stepparents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and so forth, it is
important for the adults involved to understand how gift-giving
to children is viewed in your family and what your traditions
are. Children and adults learn quickly that gifts can be a way
to manipulate people and situations. I have known children of
divorced parents who have skillfully played one parent against
the other so that they received everything they wanted on a very
long usually inappropriate wish-list. This completely distorts
the message of the season.
Another tradition your family might develop is to give
family gifts. It could be something that is needed for the home,
or it could be a game that they whole family plays. Some choices
are Monopoly, Legos or cooperative games like Mountaineering or
Maze. Also the giving of books is a nice tradition. When the
book is inscribed by the giver, it makes it very personal.
One family I know makes it a tradition to give the money
most people spend on gifts to a different charity they all choose
each year. This family also has a tradition of making different
decorations for the tree each year.
Each family is unique and special. I encourage you to keep
and perhaps add to the family traditions which enhance this
season for your family and discard those which do not.