The Gift Every Child Wants


“My favorite part of Christmas is all the fun we have getting ready for Christmas (and the presents).” – Maggie Gray age 7

How happy are your holidays? Whether we celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Solstice, many parents and children are finding the holidays more stressful and less joyful every year. When we add holiday shopping, wrapping, baking, and decorating to our already busy schedules, it is easy to become too busy to stay connected to our children. Children who feel disconnected become needy, unhappy, and demanding. When we try to compensate for not spending more time with children by buying them more presents, we teach children that “things” are supposed to make them happy.

I once heard, “You can never get enough of what you don’t really need.” When presents become a substitute for love instead of a symbol of love, children begin to measure how loved they are by how many gifts they receive. No matter how many gifts we buy for children, when they have unwrapped their last gift they are looking for something more. We can never buy enough “things” to make children happy.

The gift every child really wants, money can’t buy. The “something more” children are looking for is the gift of feeling connected, loved, and valued. Those feelings can’t be found in a present or in any amount of presents. For children, feeling connected, loved, and valued comes from spending time doing important things with and for the people who are most important to them.

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 making, wrapping, and giving their own gifts, and they love to participate in holiday preparations. We can break the “presents instead of presence” cycle by inviting children to “help” with the wrapping, baking, and decorating. When we spend time with our children helping them create gifts for others, they feel connected, loved, and valued and they become more focused on what they want to give than on what they want to get.

Whether your children are very young and you have a fresh beginning to create meaningful holiday traditions and rituals or you have older children who already have lots of “I wants” and expectations, the following tips can help create a “less stress-more joy” holiday season for the whole family.

  • Request that family members refrain from buying your children lots of gifts and show their love for your children in other ways. The gift of a one-on-one “Holiday Date” is a wonderful way for family members to form closer bonds with our children.
  • Invite children to join you in creating a list of fun activities the family can do together and a list of ideas of what your family can do for others during the holidays.
  • Take a friend’s child shopping for his or her parents or help a child make a gift for someone special.
  • Ask your children what one special present they want most and a second choice if that one is not possible. When children 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 their special present 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 their other gifts more.
  • Reduce the frantic pace of the holidays by spreading out our family and friend gatherings throughout December into January. There is less holiday let down when we have more fun to look forward to.

Most of all, 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. Tell family and friends that you are changing how you “do” the holidays and that you have decided to spend less time doing and more time being with your 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.



Simplify Your Christmas by Elaine St. James

Unplug the Christmas Machine by Jo Robinson & Jean Coppock Staeheli 

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