Behavior & Development • Nov 05, 2015

Choosing presence over presents

Now that Halloween is over, there is a huge surge in advertising for the holiday season…ALREADY!  Our children easily fall prey to the advertising promises of those relentless toy ads. Commercials have a way of making each new toy seem bigger, better and more fun than the last. A child’s wish list can grow rapidly. As advertising and store layouts are forcing me to begin thinking about this holiday season already, it has me considering how we can have a holiday that’s more than just a long list of toys. If we took an honest assessment of what our kids currently have, I’m sure many could say that they don’t even need any more toys. Even if we, as parents, are not buying all of these toys, family and friends find it enjoyable to buy our kids toys, which means they can end up with more than they need. Really, most toys are not a good investment! They quickly lose appeal and often end up in the yard sale box.

I believe that focusing on holiday traditions and the presence of loved ones is important for our developing children. This allows a focus on the experiences and relationships. De-emphasizing the number of presents and focusing more on activities during the holiday can help both you and your child have a rich experience and lasting memories.  I can’t recall from my childhood specific toys that I received and from whom. But, I do remember our family traditions in which we participated every year. I remember the presence of family. I want my children to remember the traditions that we have and the feelings we have together as a family. We can make the holiday traditions, like decorating our home, sending out greeting cards and making cookies the cherished parts of our holiday, not the quantity of gifts our children receive.

Gifts are still very fun to give. I’m not suggesting we don’t give gifts. It’s a great feeling to see a loved one unwrap a gift that you carefully chose for them. However, I think it’s worthwhile to consider alternative gift items for kids. Children don’t actually need lots of new toys to have fun! Consider giving your kids an activity as a gift. You can wrap up tickets to a concert, sporting event, or movie. Choose a fun experience that involves spending time with the adults they love, like skating, bowling or bumper cars.  You can give your child lessons for a favorite activity, like a musical instrument or acting class. Memberships to local activities, like the zoo, Magic House or City Museum are fun gifts they can enjoy with their family for the whole year. Gifts of supplies that promote creativity and imagination are great gifts. Practical items are also worthy for considering as a gift.

This holiday season, I’m choosing to focus more on the presence of family and less on the hustle and bustle of buying too many presents. Whatever your gift giving style, I hope you make some great memories!


  1. Of course, valuing objects over our loved ones is not good. But, I think people over-emphasize the depravity of materialistic views in young children. Traditions and family in the sense of valuing them can get to be very abstract. Presents are concrete, tangible packets of joy. The concepts of cherishing loved ones, like they won’t always be there, is a very mature and abstract concept. Thinking of what one has instead of what they get, is a very mature thing and takes years to fully develop. Also, should kids priorities be perfectly in place as if they were little adults? Sure, gratitude is an important value, but is it really so sinful to want gifts? I mean, take for example, a child knowing full well that a loved one may not be there next year is a very heavy realization for a child. Why not let them be carefree and obsess about the latest toys, rather than obsess about who may not be there next year? The heavy burden on adults during the seasons, of the absence of loved ones and regrets, should they weigh on a child’s mind? I’d rather wish for the latest gadget and only think of the awesome things I’d get, rather than think about an ailing grandma, or the suffering of those who have nothing. Soon enough, our children will learn all of life’s hard lessons, that some people are less fortunate, all the suffering in the world, the realization that the ones they love won’t last forever, the regret of not cherishing them, it will all come. But say at age 5, I wish my children would only think of the awesome things under the tree, for as long as they can. Also, who said you can’t be grateful for what you get as well as what you have? Why thrust jaded Adult sentiments on children too young to truly understand, and make them feel guilty for not being “grateful” enough for adult standards?

  2. Side note: also, kids grow out of immature thinking and stages. What they prioritized at 5, is not what they will at 10, or at 15. At 10, the thought of loved ones not always being there may be too much. They need mommy, daddy and other loved ones as a secure base, they can always depend on. Maybe at 15, they can start to reflect more deeply on such weighty matters, and start to develop a more adult sense of gratitude and realize the hard aspects of life. I for example, used to only like presents, and almost resented the thought of valuing family more, at the urging of my parents. but, when I grew older, I realized that Christmas would not be the same without them, and the fun of our traditions was just as fun as the presents. Now, Christmas would be lonely and unfulfilled without my family by my side, but I still enjoy my presents just the same! You can cherish both presents and family, why choose one or the other?! Children think about themselves, for good reason. They depend on us adults for their comfort and survival. They are dependent to us for everything. When they get older and independent, then they can start to think beyond their own well-being, but that comes with age and maturity. You can’t walk before you can crawl. They will come to in due time, but for now, let them be carefree, let their priorities be messed up a little. You’re the adults, not them.

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