Parents: How many gifts does your child really need?

When my children were small, their excitement on Christmas morning as they admired the tree loaded with presents underneath was one of my most treasured and anticipated Christmas memories. Their squeals of delight and the sound of wrapping paper being torn about while my husband and I enjoyed a cup of coffee brought such joy. However, one of the concerns many parents consider during this time of year is overdoing the number of gifts. We teach and mentor our children every day about the importance of giving over receiving. How do we continue to promote that important lesson while also permitting them the excitement and joy of opening their gifts?

According to experts, yes, you can over-gift during the holidays, and it can become a real issue leading to more materialistic children who expect too much without appreciating what they have. There isn’t a single perfect number of gifts appropriate for every family. Even if you can afford every toy on your child’s list, it’s important to evaluate your personal values and remain realistic about what your child really needs for their wellbeing. Sometimes the latest toy fad fades quickly, and that toy you spent hundreds on will be pushed aside to collect dust for something much less expensive but more fun.

Set yourself up for success by setting a budget. According to a November 2022 study, over 50% of parents planned to budget approximately $200.00 for each child depending on their age, while 28% of parents planned to limit their budget to $100.00 per child. Regardless of your income bracket, the following suggestions can help you give your child a magical holiday without creating financial distress.

1. Set limits around holiday gift giving. Talk with your children frequently about the way gifts make loved ones feel special, and ask them to contemplate how they can use their natural gifts to make others feel better. Remind your children that while material gifts are nice, showing kindness, trustworthiness, and thoughtfulness to others is much more important. Help your children set a budget for gift giving among friends and family. A small, thoughtful gift means more than an expensive, popular one that won’t be treasured long after the holiday season ends.

2. Be realistic with children’s requests and what you can afford. If your child requests a gift you cannot afford, be honest with them and encourage them to find something they like within your budget. When children understand upfront what is affordable and what is not, it helps them adjust expectations and minimize disappointment on Christmas Day.

3. Consider your child’s age. A child under five doesn’t need the newest toy. Ask yourself why you need to purchase so many presents for a child who will never remember and may even be overwhelmed with too many gifts on Christmas Day. Often, parents project their childhood disappointments onto their child. If you have unresolved issues about your childhood holidays, speak with a professional to avoid those issues becoming part of your child’s reality.

4. Practice the rule of four. One approach that works very well is encouraging your child to expect one gift from each of these four categories: something you want, something you need, something you wear, and something you read. This budget-friendly approach gives each child several presents to open and instills greater gratitude for all of the things that matter in early life - fulfilling needs, innate desires, and intellectual curiosity.

Talking to your children about the meaning behind Christmas, Hanukkah or any other holiday you celebrate is an important family tradition. It helps shift the focus from the number of gifts under the tree and redirects it to appreciation for what you have and what you can give to others.