Holidays and gift giving can bring about so much stress to families who are sucked into the commercialism of our current situation. In this podcast I want to give you all some hints about making gift giving a more heartfelt experience not only from you as the giver but also how to create an attitude of gratitude in our kids who are receiving those gifts. I’ll also go over some ideas about how to handle sibling-to-sibling giving as well as extended family situations which can easily get messy. I’m recording this in the holiday season, but it really applies to gifting at birthdays, graduations or any other type of event.
As I was researching, several articles offered a concept that I really thought could make gift-giving much simpler and less commercial. It’s called the “Four Gift Tradition” where just four gifts are exchanged from parents to kids: something you want, something you need, something to wear and something to read. Isn’t that sweet? It sets an expectation of getting gifts but a clear limit on how many and that there are different categories, not just one category of “something you want” as happens in many families.
I also came across a fabulous article by Kelly at Happy You, Happy Family™ called “The Most Meaningful Gifts for Kids Who Have Everything”. I’m going to go over a few of her wonderful ideas but I want to encourage you all to read the full article that I’ll post in my show notes from www.happyyouhappyfamily.com.
First, you want to keep in mind that kids who already have all their needs met, they get bored with new stuff quickly. Those toys we spent so much time, energy and money picking out frequently just move to the back of the closet within a month. It’s so frustrating. We feel our kids are so ungrateful or spoiled, right? I remember buying the Star Wars BB-8 remote controlled robot and, after the first week, it just sat there. Ugh! What was I doing wrong? It sure felt like I was wasting my money. How could I improve my gift giving?
Kelly says, research shows that after a while the human brain gets used to new things. It adapts so much that the new things become not new pretty quickly. Oh dear. How do we counter that? This is the part I love about Kelly’s article, it focuses on giving gifts that create memories and experiences! We all might have tried a few art kits or construction kits over the years like I did when my boys were growing up, but I never really focused on gifts for creating memories and experiences, but I really should have.
I’m going to run through some of the ideas from her article, see what resonates with you. There are way more in the whole article, but I want to help get some ideas flowing.
The first fun one is Monthly Boxes of Fun. There are lots of companies that offer some cool and creative kits to come once a month. You can select based on age and interests. A few Kelly mentions are:
- Kiwi Crate – really creative craft and building kits by age and topic
- Little Passports – where a fictional penpal sends letters once a month from around the world and your child can track on a map where the penpal is that month
- KidArtLit - sends a hardcover picture book combined with art supplies for a family project that is related to the book
The next category is Conversation and Everyday Kits. The ideas are pretty simple and not expensive but involve some setup to get them to gift-wrapping stage.
- Create a conversation kit you can have at the family dinner table every night. Your kids can have fun pulling conversation ideas out of a mason jar or bowl. Kelly sells printable cards, but you can also find other sets of cards to print yourself or make up your own to put in a decorated jar, box or bowl.
- Create a family playlist of favorite songs or dance songs or whatever category you choose. If you have kids who are old enough, have your kids create playlists for each other or for a particular event coming up. You can print the list out and put it in an envelope so there’s something to open.
- Set up a journal for you and your child. Pass it back and forth, writing notes and thoughts to each other each day or each week.
- Write letters. This one can create really wonderful memories and is one of my favorites. Instead of shopping for gifts, take that hour and sit down to write a letter of gratitude and love for family members. I’m talking paragraphs, not a simple card that just says, “Love you so much, Mom.” Making time to slow down and really formulate loving thoughts about each other is such a precious gift. You can put them in envelopes in stockings or under the tree. Easy.
When it comes to giving gifts that create memories besides writing letters, I think the winner is Activities with Time since these can build memories in ways that “stuff” can’t. There are a few different ways to “gift” time, some are done inside the home, others outside.
Family At-Home Time
These can be fun kits you put together that revolve around doing things at your home.
- Movie Night in a Box – full of themed candy, popcorn and stuff to go with the movie
- Game Night – pick a new game where you can all play with no electronics that you print invitations out for and include plenty of snacks and treats to eat while you play
- Puzzles – my favorite! Get a new puzzle or borrow someone’s where you just enjoy being together as you figure out where the pieces go
- Garden Kit – wrap up a whole kit with things to grow, dirt and tools so you can plant together. Pick out flower bulbs or plants or veggies that your kids love to watch grow.
- Fun Times coupon book– this one would be a booklet with things like “a pillow fight”, “staying up 30 minutes later”, “pick what’s for dinner” or “taking a mental health day from school”.
- Teaching dates – if you have a special skill like wood working, knitting, baking, welding, painting, sewing, glass blowing, that your child is eying to do with you. Set up a coupon for teaching them that skill.
Many of us take our kids to events but we forget to make them special or seem like gifts. Make a family event special by having a special announcement of it in a card or letter. Let your kids open it to reveal what it is. Here are some ideas that are in this category, some of them have to be done after COVID but I have to say that there are some cool virtual events to be had these days so search around the internet.
- Take them to play
- Take them to a movie or arrange to see the new releases that are being streamed as they come out
- Watch a sporting event or other event together
- Enroll in a class - take a class together where you both learn something new that you both want to learn
- Take a tour
- Take a hike or do a scavenger hunt
- Go on a camping trip
- Give a gift of membership to their favorite museum
- Set up a Splash Day or Mud Day – plan an event with invitations where the whole family can get soaking wet running through puddles, sit in the mud and make mud pies. I’m talking really wet, dirty and something your family doesn’t normally do, not the everyday type play your kids might do on their own. Something like a “cover dad in mud” challenge.
If you choose any of these “Activities with Time”, I’d encourage you to make sure you take plenty of photos so that you can cement the memories via an album or a screensaver in a place where everyone can see them.
I could go on and on, Kelly has a HUGE list of more ideas still. Those are just to whet your appetite.
Don’t Forget Mom and Dad
I do want to move along and cover the other side of this gift giving experience. What about you? I know I tend to think of myself last even though I spend hours thinking about what the rest of my family might need or want. Some years were a little awkward when my family all got a load of gifts and there were a meager set for mom. It made me ask myself, whose fault is that? I was teaching them about taking but not about giving. I had to up my own game and let them know that I was worth thinking about gifts for. I decided I needed to tell them so that I could model for them what they should be doing at gift giving events like birthdays and holidays. Our kids aren’t born knowing this stuff, so we need to communicate with them.
When my boys got to high school and college, a time in their lives when they might be busy doing lots of other things with friends rather than with family, I went bold and put only two things on my Christmas list:
- A CD of some new Christmas music
- Time, opened ended to do what I wanted with them
Another memory from my Gift of Time was going to Disneyland with just one son while he was in college in LA. Yes, I had to fly to get there but it was worth it. It poured but we slugged it out, buying cheap Mickey ponchos and wringing out our socks we were so drenched. He took an entire day to be with just me. It was so precious.
What can you ask your family for? What fun activity do YOU want to do with them? That they can create a coupon for you? Maybe a hike with no whining? A trip to the beach? Maybe they create a Christmas playlist on Pandora or Spotify for you? Be creative! Ask for experiences, acts of service or my favorite, a letter to you about the wonderful things they loved about you this past year. If they can’t write yet, have them draw you and the family.
However, I have to say you really, really need to model parent giving for your kids. While they are young, they need to be helped and encouraged in selecting gifts for parents. What I mean is where dad helps them select presents for mom and mom helps them select presents for dad. One young dad has had his young sons help him select a nice bracelet on Amazon after taking his boys looking at a shopping mall.
Whatever you do, don’t just buy presents for your spouse, or any member of your family for that matter, and say that they’re from your kids, have them participate. If writing a letter, making coupons or drawing pictures is what they decide to do, make sure they’re done and wrapped and ready for gift-giving time. Model the love of giving!
Now let’s move on to another gift giving topic. Gifts for Siblings. Our kids are trained to expect items from parents but what about getting gifts from siblings? When and how do we encourage this? I’d say at about 5 years old and beyond is a good time to help your kids figure out how to give gifts to each other. You might give them the money to do this, but I would certainly give them a budget if you take that route. If you happen to be following the money recommendations from my podcast on Money, they could use money from their Spend-Save-Share jar or, if they’re older, from their allowance. The most appropriate category would be to use the “Spend” part of their money since “Share”’s intension is to share outside the home but, do what you have to do.
Have your kids agree on a spending limit or a type of gift like board games, books, or only handmade gifts so they are in the same ballpark. Sometimes one child is overly generous, and another stingier child can take advantage of them, so a target limit is probably best.
Grandparents and Extended Family Giving TO Your Kids
Next up is certainly a challenge for some families, gift exchanges with grandparents and extended families. When you have young children, I think it’s best if you give clear gift giving guidelines for grandparents, aunts and uncles and other special family friends. Set a dollar, quantity or size limit but try as hard as you can to be up front about what is reasonable.
You all know I love Family Meetings. I would actually gather those extended family members in person or on Zoom to discuss what’s reasonable. If they are part of the decision making, then you might have more success in getting compliance than trying to say what you want and having it ignored. Relatives ignoring our pleas for present limits is the most common problem I’ve heard, so try a Family Meeting to see if it helps.
Whether you talk about it in a Family Meeting or not, I would also encourage relatives to give experiences instead of physical gifts, something to look forward to in the future. As kids get to be tweens and teens lots of families start in on the gift-card-exchange bandwagon because it’s easy and it’s something, but a special lunch with grandma could be more meaningful. If grandma lives far away, get creative and have a Zoom lunch where grandma picks the menu and sends it ahead of time for them to eat together. One of our family friends took our boys to Petroglyphs every year to paint a Christmas plate. It was so special.
If you have a difficult time with relatives who give an overwhelming number of gifts and they are NOT present at the holiday, then I’d encourage you to spread the gift opening out over time so that your kids aren’t overwhelmed and wind up ignoring the thoughtfulness of those who kindly shopped for them.
Large Families and Groups
The last category I wanted to touch on is large family groups and ideas about what to do. I’m from a very large family and money was always tight which made gifts such a challenge. However, I know lots of other people with extended families they feel they have to not only buy presents for everyone in the group but have to compete to give more expensive gifts than they can afford. Here are some ideas for those of you in similar situations. My first idea is to encourage moving everyone to pulling names from a hat and having a spending limit set.
As my family grew, we started out with pulling names but moved on to that Gift Exchange where we all brought the same dollar value gift and picked numbers to open gifts and could choose to steal from others or open a new gift. Other families do White Elephant where you all bring something you have that you’re not using anymore and wrap it up and do the same number picking.
When my siblings and I all started having kids, we all agreed that there wouldn’t be any sibling gifts, just gifts for the nieces and nephews. Later, even the nieces and nephews drew names so there weren’t so many gifts. Lastly, my siblings and I all decided we would save our money and go out to dinner or an event as a group later on the next year. We were able to have some really fun experiences in the name of Christmas months after Christmas was over.
The point of all of this is to bring some fun and creativity into the gift giving, to create memories of joy instead of a drudge of buying for 10 or 20 or 30 people presents they probably don’t really need or, sometimes, even want.
Fun Theme Holiday Giving
The last category I wanted to mention whether you use it for your immediate family or extended family is setting up a “theme” for your holiday where everyone participating uses that theme for giving. You can do any of these with the Gift Exchange Swap I just mentioned.
Here’s a quick list:
- Board games
- DIY gifts – handmade by YOU
- Event tickets
- Gift cards/certificates
- Handmade items – bought locally or online
- Local products only
- Movies and/or movie-themed gifts
- Personalized items
- Specialty food
- Ugly Christmas sweaters
- Wine and wine-themed gifts
- Made in the USA
- Anything blue (or whatever color you choose)
Whatever happens with your family and gift giving make sure that if you or your child receive gifts that you all write letters of thanks to go with them. These days even though an email of thanks is getting more acceptable, I still favor old-fashioned, hand-written notes. It’s your job as a parent to model thanks as well as giving.
I hope and pray some of these ideas will allow you to make any season of giving and receiving less stressful and more heartfelt. It does take extra time and effort to set things up sometimes but it’s that extra effort than can make all the difference.