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The ‘Why’ of Gift Giving

It’s that time again: “the most wonderful time of the year…” This time last year I wrote a short piece reminding us all that the holiday season may not be wonderful for everyone for various reasons and to consider different perspectives around the jolliness (or lack of) others may feel. This year I’d like to take a few minutes to talk about gift giving.

It’s likely that many of us will be spending these next couple of weeks rushing around trying to check off items from our shopping lists to give just the right gift to those we plan to celebrate with.

Take a moment to consider the “why” of gift giving. When we think about why we give gifts in the first place, are we really choosing gifts that fit the situation or are we falling into compulsive gift giving habits that lead to more stress and undesirable consequences in the long run? A topic I often think about is parents who spend exorbitant amounts of money (and time) to give children gifts that will likely be forgotten soon after the New Year. Many times children are in competition with each other, leading them to feel as though they actually want lavish gifts when actually it is not about the item at all, but really that they are trying to out-do their peers. Is this a good reason to indulge them?

Many parents want their children to understand the value of hard work and the effort it takes to earn what they have. This is an important concept for children to grasp early on. When parents give in to indulging their children with many or overly expensive gifts, going against the values they wish to teach their children in the first place, a habit forms that creates an expectation they often have difficulty changing later on. It is understandable to want your children to fit in with their friends and to be included in the latest trends. It is also crucial to think about the long term goals and consequences and whether the short term actions are worth those outcomes.

Here are some thoughts to consider about gift giving:

  • Children should give gifts (items or experiences) to parents and siblings

Children can make homemade gifts or buy items appropriate to their ability and budget. This helps kids in several ways:

  • They can begin to understand budgeting (time and money)
  • They can understand the value of sacrificing for those they care about
  • They can build empathy by thinking about what it is others would like as a gift
  • A child’s list of desired gifts is not a guarantee

Remember the days when children used to wonder if they would receive what they   asked for? It was never a guarantee. In fact, it was a wonderful surprise when their   wishes actually came true. Providing highly desirable and indulgent gifts now and     then for special occasions seems fine, but is not absolutely necessary. Talk yourself out of feeling guilty when feeling like “the worst mom ever” because you didn’t wake up at 3AM to stomp over a crowd of three hundred other moms to get THE hot item of the year.

  • Consider a gift of experience

Children many not respond well in the moment to an envelope explaining that they are  due tohave a flight lesson in the upcoming month. However, the memory of the experience has the potential to impact them much more deeply than the item of the season. Experiences add to the depth of a child’s life in many ways. For example, a gift of experience could be taking the train downtown to spend a day with Mom doing three activities of your choice (museum, dinner, movies). This kind of experience not only provides quality time between child and parent, but it also exposes the child to people and places, allows them to experience how the world works, and increases their ability as a highly functioning person.

Consider reading this blog post on ‘The Secret to Happiness, Spend Money on Experiences, Not Things’:


And remember, in all things we do: Balance