Whether we observe Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Solstice,
the holidays have become more stressful for many parents and
less happy for many children. By the time we add shopping,
wrapping, baking, decorating, and holiday events to our already
busy schedules, we have less time than ever to spend with our
children. When children don't get enough attention from the
people they love, their love cup gets empty and they feel
disconnected and unhappy.
If adults try to make children happy by buying them more
presents to compensate for spending less time with them, we
teach children that things are supposed to make them happy. When
gifts become a substitute for love instead of a symbol of love,
children begin to measure how much they are loved by how many
gifts they receive. The more empty their love cup, the more
"things" children ask for to try to fill the emptiness
The saying, "You can never get enough of what you don't
really need," is especially true for children. No matter
how many gifts we buy for children or how much money we spend,
if their love cup is empty, there will never be enough gifts to
make them happy. When children with an empty love cup have
unwrapped all their gifts, they are still looking for something
more. The "something more" that children are looking
for is something money can't buy.
The gift every child really wants is the gift of feeling
connected, loved, and valued. Those feelings can't be found in
any present or in any amount of presents. Children want to be
with us and to do what we do. Feeling connected, loved, and
valued comes from spending time with the people they love and
from doing things with and for the people they love.
One of the best gifts we can give to children is the
experience of the joy of giving. We can encourage children to
make an "I want to give" list as well as an "I
want to get" list. Children delight in giving their own
gifts. When children are allowed and invited to fully
participate in the holiday making, wrapping, baking, and
decorating, they become more focused on what they want to give
than on what they want to get. Children who feel connected,
loved, and valued don't need lots of gifts to fill their love
We can break the "presents instead of presence"
cycle by doing the holidays with our children instead of for
them. Whether our children are still very young and we have a
fresh beginning to create meaningful holiday traditions and
rituals or we have older children who have been accustomed to
receiving lots of presents, we can put the "happy"
back into the holidays by filling our children's love cup with
connection instead of consumerism.
The following tips are for parents who want to create a
"less stress - more joy" holiday season for themselves
and their children.
- Make the decision that presents will not be or will no
longer be the main focus of the holidays.
- Invite children to join in creating a list of fun and
meaningful holiday activities the family can do together and
a list of kindnesses your family can do for others.
- Request that family and friends honor your fewer-gifts
decision by asking them to show their love for your children
in other ways. A one-on-one "holiday date" is a
welcome gift and a wonderful way for family members to form
closer bonds with children.
- Give children the means to give a few special gifts. Take
a friend's or a relative's child shopping or help the child
make a gift for his or her parents.
- Ask your children what one gift they want most and a
second choice if that one is not possible. When children
with a full love cup get one gift they really want, they
hardly notice what else they do or do not get. Receiving one
gift they really want satisfies more than opening ten gifts
they don't really care about.
- Try giving children their most special gift first instead
of last. The reason children tear through opening presents
and keep asking for another is that they are looking for
that special one they've been hoping for. When they get
their special one first, they enjoy the rest more.
- Slow down the frantic pace of the holidays and reduce
post-holiday let-down by spreading out family and friend
gatherings throughout December into January.
Most of all, we can stop trying to "do it all." The
people who really love us will still love us no matter what
gifts we do or do not give them and whether or not we send
greeting cards. We can tell family and friends that we are
changing how we do the holidays and that we have decided to
spend more time connecting with our children. When we slow down
the pace and stop doing and buying too much, our children are
happier, we are happier, and our holidays are happier.