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Joyful Gift Giving – Without the Side Eye

The holidays can be full of excitement and happiness. Ideally, this season should be for families and friends to spend quality time together. However, the holidays have become commercialized, and expectations for gift giving have often grown to uncomfortable proportions. As a result, parents may find themselves struggling to find presents that will satisfy their children’s desires because those wishes are influenced by the media and comparisons to other children’s possessions.

This harmful dynamic can happen in the kindest, most well-wishing communities and families and at time extends beyond gift giving: some feel judged based on decorations, vacation plans, holiday outfits, recipe renditions, etc. This race to win the season is tiresome and stressful, detracting from the true value of the holidays. It’s not uncommon for folks to feel stressed around the holidays, and the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that 64% of those with a mental illness say that the holidays make things worse for them.

So, how can we turn this seasonal frenzy into relief? How do we stop the comparisons and simply enjoy time with our families? Here are some thoughts.

  1. Minimize the excess at home. Many parents find it helpful to limit their children’s gifts to the ‘Want, Need, Wear, Read’ rule: one item they want, one they need, one they can wear, and one they can read. Four gifts should be more than enough for a young child. Discuss the rule and its reasoning with your family, highlighting the deeper meaning behind gift-giving and modeling humility.
  2. Emphasize family time. The focus of the season should be on time spent together, not the gifts you get. Plan fun, seasonal activities for your family, such as looking at holiday lights or preparing a special family dinner. Instead of physical gifts, celebrate meaningful experiences that children will appreciate and remember long after they’ve forgotten about a toy.
  3. Include your child in the giving process. Help them realize that sometimes the act of giving is actually more enjoyable than receiving. Have them pick gifts for other family members and their teachers. Redirecting focus to others instead of ourselves helps to build empathy and selflessness.
  4. Do random acts of kindness with your family. Commit to doing one nice thing for someone else every day throughout the month of December. Encourage the kids to help think of ideas and reflect on their feelings about charitable acts. Simple things may include holding doors, giving compliments, donating toys, and making cards. This helps children foster a habit of giving back and learning about generosity.
  5. Don’t forget about self-care. This is probably the most important thing we can suggest for parents. Take a day or an afternoon off for yourself. Carve out some “me time” in order to rest and reset before the holiday season becomes crazy, take a yoga class, do a meditation, sit and read a book, or simply take a nap. Most importantly, just do something for yourself.

Remember that holidays are never perfect, and neither are the gifts that you give or receive. If you can accept the imperfection of the holidays, you will allow yourself time to relax and enjoy the festivities.