Setting realistic expectations can help you avoid the pitfalls of this holiday
Age & Stage
Find out how others have taught their children the importance of giving gifts or how they as parents have given gifts to their children.
Whether it’s parents giving gifts to children or children learning how to give to others, presents are a Christmas tradition that many choose to observe. Here are some gifted ideas from other parents that might work in your family:
Try this fun musical game that kids in the United Kingdom enjoy. Prepare beforehand by wrapping a gift in multiple layers of wrapping paper in various patterns.
To play, children sit on the floor in a circle and pass the gift to the next person while a song plays in the background. An adult stops the music at random intervals. The child who’s left holding the gift unwraps one layer. Then the music continues. The music starts and stops until a child removes the last layer of wrapping paper. That child gets to keep the gift.
Tip: Remember the innermost layer’s paper pattern to know when the game is nearing the finish.
© 2020 T.F. Edword
Before unwrapping Christmas gifts, our family opens brown paper bags we call “Papa Sacks.” They typically contain fruit, peanuts, some candy and a simple gift. The bags remind us how our grandparents and great-grandparents could not afford Christmas gifts during the Great Depression. Most years they received very little, but they still enjoyed and celebrated Christmas. Papa Sacks are a family tradition that reminds us that Christmas is not about expensive presents but about celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ.
© 2020 David Cox
After my son Nicholas was born, we decided to celebrate St. Nicholas Day on Dec. 6. Every year, the kids lay out their shoes before bed. We read the story of Nicholas of Myra, who left gold in the shoes of poor girls. In the morning, our kids wake up to a surprise: gold coins (chocolate!) and a new tree ornament.
Something else we do is let the kids decide on a way to practice the spirit of giving. Some years our family has volunteered in a soup kitchen. One year, we rang the bell for the Salvation Army in near-freezing temperatures. Their favorite activity has been filling shoeboxes with gifts for children in need through Operation Christmas Child. The hope is that perhaps they will change someone’s life through their service.
© 2020 Megan Bray
My children enjoy their Christmas gifts on Christmas Day, but I also wanted them to appreciate the lip gloss or Matchbox car that was in their stockings instead of overlooking them. So my husband and I came up with the 10 Days of Christmas. On Christmas Day, our children open their larger packages, but only open one stocking gift. The following nine days, they can choose an additional stocking gift after dinner. One rule: No feeling, squeezing or smelling still-wrapped gifts. It worked well. A small present that would have been tossed aside on Christmas Day was sincerely appreciated on day six.
© 2019 Barbara Higby
When I go shopping with my children, I let them know, “We’re not getting things for
ourselves today.” But I do want to acknowledge their interest in those items.
Perhaps one will say, “I love this race car! Can I get it?!”
Instead of shrugging it off and telling my son or daughter to
put it back, I admire the race car with my child and take a picture so when it comes time for
Christmas or birthday gifts, I have a list of ideas. And the act of recognizing the child’s feelings
and interests makes him or her feel validated.
© 2019 Jesse Neve
Our daughters were adopted at ages 4 and 2. During those beginning months
of getting to know each other, I let them wear the outfits they chose, even if I didn’t personally
approve of their selections. They’ve worn princess costumes to the grocery store, swimsuits to
general merchandise stores and poufy dresses to the veterinarian.
I let them choose what they wanted
to wear and then snapped a photo. The silliest and most un-matching outfits became a photo book that
we sent to the grandparents at Christmas. It became our unique way of documenting how the girls were
growing and changing.
© 2019 Caitlin Frost
One Christmas, my family decided to give each other the gift of ourselves. As a
family, we talked about each of our strengths and abilities and discussed ideas for how each person
could use his or her God — given gifts to be a blessing to others. One child read a story to her
siblings. Another cleaned a sibling’s room. This ended up being one of our most memorable — and
enjoyable — Christmases ever. Each person’s acts of service were a true blessing to each recipient.
© 2019 Marybeth Mitcham
When the stockings go up, our children grab their pens and colored
paper. Our family fills stockings with creative love notes during the days before Christmas. I write
acrostics for the kids’ names. Big Sis writes silly poems. Daddy writes a special memory he’s had
with each child. On Christmas Day, we read our notes to one another.
© 2019 Laura Costea
When our oldest son was a few months old, my wife used finger paints to cover a
white shirt with his handprints and footprints. She gave the shirt to me as a gift, along with a
card from the two of them. To this day, we still enjoy pulling out that shirt and card and
remembering those first few months after our son was born.
© 2019 David Cox
My children created gift baskets for their teachers that included the following:
We put everything in pretty plastic bins that the teachers could use in their classrooms, added tissue paper and included a handwritten note saying that we hoped they would relax and have fun with their families during Christmas break.
© 2018 Holly Kallemyn
Often, what’s on a school supply list doesn’t last until the end of the school year — especially tissues and cleaning wipes. So my family looks for sales and coupons for these items all year. Then we designate a location in our home for the “class stash.” My children are in charge of keeping it organized. At Christmas, we wrap the supplies in reusable bags, add handmade cards and present these gifts to my kids’ teachers.
© 2018 Karinda McGraw
One gift that was a hit at Christmas was a handmade “tea tree.” Supplies include one cone from a craft store, individually wrapped tea bags and a homemade cardboard star. My children decorated their tree by using glue dots to attach the tea bags to the cone. Then they glued a toothpick to the star and pushed it into the top of the tree. It was a beautiful gift people admired and actually used.
© 2018 Courtney Roberts
Hannah, 7, carefully traced a little lamb, Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus on four wooden blocks. Then she colored each figure with markers. When finished, she gave her Nativity set to her grandmother. It was one of the first gifts she was able to make all by herself.
© 2018 Kristin Jarvis Adams
One of the most memorable Christmas gifts our children gave to their grandparents was a letter that offered a commitment to 12 days of service. One day a month for a year, the kids would help them in various service projects of their choosing. We marked the days on a calendar as we agreed on the service dates. That year, my kids’ grandparents were thrilled to serve side by side with their grandchildren every month.
© 2018 Valarie Schenk
Six weeks before winter break, I helped my children plant amaryllis bulbs in decorative pots so they could give the flowers as Christmas gifts to their teachers. These trumpet-shaped flowers come in several colors; however, my children chose a deep-red flower that was festive for Christmas. Once the stems were about an inch tall, the plants started growing very fast. The kids were excited about measuring the plants each day. When they gave the amaryllis plants to their teachers, my children felt as if they had helped “make” their teachers’ gifts.
© 2017 Barbara Weddle
— Sheila Seifert / © 2017 Focus on the Family
With brown paper and craft supplies before us, I ask my girls these questions:
Then we design wrapping paper that visually reflects our answers. Our decorations include pictures, words, phrases and Bible verses. Christmas wrapping paper has become a way to teach my children about giving and a new avenue for my family to spread the Gospel.
© 2015 Kathryn O’Brien
On Christmas Eve, our three children each open one present. The present contains a new pair of pajamas, a Christmas book inscribed with the date, and a handwritten note from both my husband and me. In the note we write what we appreciate about that child and the dreams we have for him or her for the upcoming year. Our children look forward to this treasured tradition every Christmas.
© 2015 Delinah Soon
My husband and I always thought giving our children the freedom to choose gifts for their siblings was the right approach, but we changed our minds the year our 12-year-old gave his younger brothers matching 98-cent rubber mallets — with price stickers still attached. The younger boys had spent around $10 each on their big brother and were hurt by his thoughtlessness. Over the years, those mallets have become a family joke and found their way back under the tree more than once. At the time, though, we needed an intervention.
We tasked the boys with learning about each other, specifically focusing on the following categories: favorite activities, dearest possessions and “most important.” We left “most important” open-ended for individual interpretation. It generated some interesting insights.
We then had the boys list their observations and write one paragraph describing what they liked most about that brother. When their projects (and subsequent whining) were done, we thanked the boys and put their “reports” away, thinking we would pull them out as necessary.
There was never a need. The act of getting to know what was important to one another caused a shift from “me-based” buying to “you-based” giving. Learning these things firsthand somehow gave them a desire to please each other with their gifts, and that has made all the difference.
© 2011 Karen Klasi
When my 8-year-old daughter, Annabelle, wanted to give Christmas presents to her entire second-grade class, I admired her generous spirit. But given our tight finances, saying yes to even dollar-store gifts for 21 kids seemed unachievable. Before I could squelch her generosity, she began gathering an assortment of items we had at home. Her creativity shone as she selected unused or gently used gifts, from unopened sticky notes and still-bagged kids meal toys to Mason jars of a classmate’s favorite candy. She had a reason behind every choice, including a teddy bear she’d bought for herself but decided to give to a boy whose father was serving in the military overseas. My favorite was the VBS Bible she chose for a boy who didn’t have one.
As we filled a grocery sack full of brightly wrapped treasures that evening, I realized we’d both learned an important lesson about generosity: We always have enough to give, especially when we don’t approach giving with unrealistic expectations.
© 2014 Lindsey Brackett
Last Christmas, I struggled with what to give my tween. She was a girl tottering between childhood and adulthood, between wanting to play with toys and wanting to be grown-up. I didn’t want her to leave childhood behind so quickly, so I purchased a whimsical toy — an advanced LEGO set I thought she’d enjoy. I also wanted to recognize the fact that she was growing up, so I looked for a gift that reflected her adult side. I wanted to acknowledge her emerging emotions and her changing interests, so I purchased a set of wood-carving tools. I reminded my daughter of her ability to see things that others can’t, and encouraged her to express that through her creativity. The first thing she carved was an owl’s face from a thick stick. A touch of childhood and a dash of adulthood equaled one special Christmas celebration.
Because I enjoyed shopping for my four children, I often went overboard at Christmas. Presents spilled out from under the tree — even before gifts from the grandparents arrived! My husband and I realized we were encouraging our kids to have unrealistic expectations. So we implemented the “three-gift rule” (not counting small stocking stuffers) in the spirit of the three gifts from the Magi.
That first Christmas was difficult. Are my kids missing out? I wondered as friends and relatives shared excitement about all the toys they bought. But I learned to appreciate the simplicity of the idea. It provides a limit and prevents me from buying on impulse. We’re more thoughtful about choosing gifts, and the post-Christmas clutter is manageable. Most important, the three-gift rule reminds our family that Christmas is much more than shiny gadgets and sparkly bows.
One year, I overheard my daughter telling an incredulous young friend that she only got three presents. “I got more than I could count,” he said. I braced for a “No fair!” from my daughter. Instead, she replied, “I think it’s kinda cool. It makes me feel like baby Jesus.” Is there any greater gift I could give my children?
© 2013 Vanessa Peters
“Do you remember what you got from Jimmy last year for Christmas?” I asked my son DJ.
“No, but I made him the rubber-band gun and a target,” he replied.
“I made Baby Joanie a mobile with pink butterflies,” his sister Rachel volunteered. Her hands fluttered like the paper butterflies hanging from the wire.
Every year, I organize a Christmas workshop for each of the children. I Google simple crafts that each child could make with minimal help. Last Christmas, even my 2-year-old, Josh, participated, coloring paper twirlers and putting stickers on barrettes. I also recorded a skit the children performed as a gift for their dad.
Come Christmas morning, the children love to give their gifts and explain how each was made. The cardboard basketball hoop, giraffe puppet, flipbook, foam bathtub race car and fabric heart-shaped box may not last forever, but the memories of giving from the heart will last a lifetime.
© 2013 Jennifer Garrett
To teach their daughters about the value of giving gifts, Molly and Brad helped their 9-year-old, Reilly, create a surprise for her younger sister.
Reilly often read books to 7-year-old Calley, sometimes subbing for Mom or Dad at bedtime. So the idea of making an audio book for her story-loving sister seemed perfect. After selecting seven stories from among Calley’s favorites, Reilly read them out loud into a recording device, using different voices for each character.
Christmas morning, she barely contained her excitement as Calley opened the gift and shrieked with delight.
© 2009 Cathy Elliott
“Enjoying Small Gifts,” “Making a List,” “A Photo Book for Grandma,” “The Gift of Yourself,” “Heartfelt Stocking Stuffers,” and “A Gift From Baby” first appeared in the December 2019/January 2020 issue. “The Family Basket,” “The Class Stash,” “Tea Trees,” “Christmas Cubes” and “The Gift of Time” first appeared in the December 2018/January 2019 issue. “Growing Teacher Gifts” and “Gifts for Teachers” first appeared in the December 2017/January 2018 issue. “Wrapping With Purpose” first appeared in the December 2016/January 2017 issue.
“The Night Before Christmas … ” first appeared in the December 2015/January 2016 issue. “Gift Giving and Siblings” first appeared in the December 2011 issue. “Thoughtful Giving” first appeared in the December 2014/January 2015 issue. “Choosing Gifts for Tweens” first appeared in the December 2012 issue. “Three-Gift Rule” appeared in the December 2013 issue. “Sibling Gift Idea” first appeared in the November/December 2009 issue.
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