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Many American families have experienced the economic downturn in varying degrees and planning for holiday gifts this season, especially for children, seems daunting.
Lower retail sales mean that our kids will be bombarded – more than ever – with pitches for the latest, hottest gizmos and gadgets. So, how do we show our kids the joy that can be had from giving and receiving more meaningful, and often conveniently less expensive, gifts?
COMMUNICATION IS KEY
Talk to your kids about money issues. Parents tend to want to protect their children from family money problems, but kids will pick up on tensions and worry. If they aren’t told anything, their imaginations will run wild. Don’t tell them more than they need to know, but do give them age-appropriate information.
Children under age five simply need to be assured that they’ll be taken care of. Simpler, inexpensive gifts fill their needs, rather than more expensive toys. Children ages 6-9 understand the concept of saving to buy something costlier later. They can make wish lists and learn to comparison shop. Also at this age, kids can understand family cutbacks and help contribute budgeting ideas. Teenagers, even with peer pressure, can understand the priorities that come with reduced income. Be candid with them and involve them in problem solving.
QUALITY NOT QUANTITY
If you have expensive family traditions, involve the entire family in planning new traditions. Perhaps instead of buying everything, the family can spend time together making holiday gifts and cards. A batch of cookies the kids help to bake will be appreciated by anyone on your list. Give coupons for special time or events with your kids during the year. A coupon cashed in next summer for a fishing day with dad, will be priceless to your son or daughter. Let’s face it, the most important thing we can give our kids is our time. If they make a wish list, they can be asked to shorten it, or pick two gifts they consider the most special. Consider gently used items, in good condition and age appropriate. Plan gift swaps with your friends and family for outgrown toys. If your older child wants an expensive gift, ask them to contribute toward the purchase. From middle school on, kids can find ways to earn a little extra cash. Teach them the importance of work, the joy of saving and the true value of what they want.
“Holidays are the perfect time to start when your kids are young, and teach them that gifts should never be expected,” says Michelle Dickey, LCSW, of Folsom Family Counseling. “Teach them, through role playing, how to graciously receive a gift, how to say thank you, and always to write personal thank you notes. If they get a lot of gifts, ‘pace’ them; open one or two gifts at a time, to fully appreciate each one,” Dickey adds.
Finally, there’s nothing like volunteering or giving to those in need to counteract a pity party your kids may have. Start early to teach them about the true gift of the holiday season, which is our ability to give to others.