Three Tips for The Gift-Receiving Season

Here we are. Onslaught of sparkling decorations as you enter Target, shiny toy catalogs in the mail, well-intentioned grandparents asking for lists. 

Halloween to the New Year, our culture suffocates us with messages like:

GIFTS = LOVE 

YOU WILL BE A BETTER PERSON WHEN YOU HAVE THIS THING.

It's hard to keep perspective, wherever you fall between minimalist and toy-collector and whatever your cultural practices. And it's hard to help your kids keep perspective when they are exposed to so much…stuff. The three tips below help facilitate conversations in your family around giving - and receiving - gifts.

1. Take photos of desired things.

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My 5-year-old son falls in love with a Spiderman shirt and asks for it NOW. Instead of engaging in a lengthy conversation about materialism and preferring feminist superheroes, I offer to take a photo of his prized want. Then I say something like, "Ooh, that's a cool shirt! Let's take a picture so we can remember it when it's your birthday!" I acknowledge his want, and I buy time for us to have a conversation not in the heat-of-the-moment. And indeed, the photo diary helps me remember what he likes. 

2. Make a Plan.

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Often you can anticipate the largesse around holidays. In our family Grandma #1 tends to give at least 6-8 gifts to each grandchild between Hanukkah and Christmas (the dual celebration is for another blog post). Add this to the 3-5 gifts my husband and I like to give, and suddenly that’s just a lot of things. So we decide ahead of time that we won’t keep everything we receive and will pick things to return and/or donate to families in need or to a friend going through a hard time. And as a family we’ll go shopping to re-stock the packages we keep in our car to hand out to people in need — shopping for warm socks and a pair of gloves to add to the bags with wash cloths, snacks and toothbrushes.

3. Talk about Giving.

The moment your child asks for something is not the time to discuss generosity or gratitude. But you can pick moments to encourage conversation about what to give others, why they might like something, and how you might give it. I love to introduce the idea of shared experiences as gifts when I can: What does Jason love to do with you? How can we make that happen?

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On a very sugar-wanting level, our 5-year-old gets very excited for cake in anticipation of birthday parties. So we ask him all about the kind of cake he thinks his friend might enjoy, and why. Considering what others like and why are the seeds of empathy.

There are some excellent resources to help you jump-start gratitude conversation, for all ages:

Consider yourself equipped to head into this season of gifts - er gratitude - and good luck!