Gift-Giving Guidelines for Families

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Do you ever feel powerless against the onslaught of toys and gifts at holiday time? Without a plan in place to give guidance to gift-giving, your children could end up with more toys and possessions than any child would even know what to do with. Maybe these gift-giving guidelines can help.

I’m a grandmother now with no small children at home. But I see the toy explosion our grandchildren face, read about the toy havoc in other families, and wander the malls and stores at the holidays where everyone is vying for your gift-giving dollar. I also care for two of my grandsons full-time which includes doing preschool with them. I’m a little rusty, but not a dinosaur!

Also, I’m not anti-toy. I think children need toys and playtime as much as ever – in fact, maybe even more, given that so much of their waking time is spent in front of a screen. Playtime should be a time of growing, stretching, ideas, imagination, creativity, experiences, risk-taking, and physical challenges. Choosing the right toys can transform playtime for your kids.

For some specific ideas of what to buy, check out this post.

But finding good quality toys is difficult. Many toys and gifts sold for children are too ‘programmed’ for their brains to be challenged and grow. By this I mean toys frequently have a backstory, often related to a TV show or movie (Doc MCstuffin, Paw Patrol, Star Wars, and more). Or the toy does too much – like dolls or pets that tell the child when to feed them, burp them, or put them to sleep. No imaginative play there – the toy does all the thinking (one of the problems with screens, too). Some toys are not challenging enough, like giving an 8-year-old a 24 piece puzzle. Just too easy.

With that said, you might want to consider purchasing (or requesting) gifts that fall into one of the following three categories.

Give Gifts That Encourage Physical Activity

gift giving mom and kids

Sporting equipment such as rollerblades, balls, a basketball hoop, or cleats falls into this category. But so could family gifts such as snowshoes for everyone, dance lessons, an outdoor playset, a mini-trampoline, or even interactive video games. Other ideas include experiences like monthly hiking dates scheduled in advance on the calendar and kept faithfully, bi-weekly trips to the park or playground for some real climbing and risk-taking, or joining a youth bowling league or rock-climbing club. The idea is to challenge your child to use his body, not to sit and soak in the video games!

Give Gifts That Encourage Creativity

This one is tricky because creativity comes in all shapes and sizes. That said, here are just a handful of ideas: art supplies, knitting classes, hand tools and wood, camera and photography lessons, a commitment to teaching your child one new cooking or baking recipe each month, or building toys – if your child isn’t the ‘gotta only build what’s in the directions’ type of child.

Some cautions are in order with this category. First, be prepared – creativity often means making a mess. Either it’s paint or playdough or mud or hundreds of Legos or broken eggs or… You get the idea.

Second, if you (or some printed direction) are always telling your child what to do (except for first lessons in cooking or gardening or such) then they aren’t being creative.

Third, if your child’s creativity results in a product, such as a lopsided clay pot, a painting every other day, or a log cabin build of twigs and leaves, have a plan for celebrating that product. One thought would be to frame and hang paintings and pictures. For 3D objects, display it in a prominent place for a few days, then move it into the child’s bedroom. But first, take a picture to place in a memory book later.

Give Gifts That Will Build Their Reading Skills and Knowledge of the World

gift giving little girl

Yes, of course, I’m talking about books! But not just any books. Focus on good literature and interesting nonfiction books. Avoid almost anything related to television, cartoons, movies, or pop culture. They can always get those books at the library – and they will. But spend your hard-earned money on books that will challenge and stretch their minds, not just provide ‘empty calories.’

There are plenty of people that will disagree with me here – but the books you provide and have in your home are the mind and spirit food you are feeding your child. Just as with eating, a little bit of junk food occasionally is fine, but a steady diet of unhealthy food leads to an unhealthy body and unhealthy habits.

An aside here from a teacher: don’t miss any opportunity to give good books and read them to and with your child! No skill is more important to their success in school and life than reading. You might also enjoy this post or this one about children and books.

Give Gifts That Build Memories

Focus on experiences in this category, not things. Having said that, I think the tradition of buying each child their own ornament commemorating something special each year is a great tradition. I’d also encourage you to go to an online photo site and get a photo book of the family for each year – records of memories are as important as making them. There are plenty of online photo services – you can check out some reviews here and here. Or just search for what options are available.

Ask yourself, what can you do this coming year to build memories with your family?

Monthly daddy-daughter or mother-son dates (or mother-daughter and daddy-son)? I regret never starting this tradition! Start young, when they’ll be excited about it, and keep it up well into the teen and young adult years – as long as possible.

tree fireplace and gifts

Perhaps you could reverse the tradition of children giving their parents coupons to redeem for ‘clean bedroom’ or ‘doing dishes.’ Instead, give your children coupons for ‘one trip to the park each month’ or ‘bi-weekly horseback rides together’ or ‘lessons from dad on how to ____ (fill in the blank – what can dad teach?).’

Weekly family game nights (buy a new game to try)? Bi-weekly family movie nights (be sure to discuss what lessons the movie teaches)? Living room picnics? Pizza nights? Museum trips? Concert tickets? Broadway-type shows?

Pull out your calendar the day after Christmas and start penciling in commitments to redeem those coupons, teach those lessons, have those dates, and make those memories. You could even give your child her own calendar to keep track of your commitments. She won’t let you off the hook!

Gifts to Avoid

Technology. Let’s face it – your child will get plenty of technology in his life without giving it the place of honor reserved for Christmas gifts. If your child is like the majority in the United States, he probably already has a phone and/or tablet. Don’t avoid the issue of technology, but don’t let it steal the show. Make Christmas gifts all about becoming a better person, a better family, a better servant, and building more and better memories.

For more on technology and screen control, check out this post.

Gift Giving Guidelines are a Must-Have Item

Make Christmas less about getting tons of stuff and more about making lasting memories. You might want to set a limit on gifts. Some families choose to give three or four gifts per child, no more. You could also limit the per-child budget, making it necessary to evaluate your choices more carefully. Do your best to get grandparents and other relatives onboard with the plan your family adopts.

Whatever you choose to do about gift-giving, at the very least have a plan. Just buying everything your child wants will only breed entitled children who think they deserve everything they want simply because they want it. While that might seem cute at a young age, it quickly gets old. The world needs believers – and our children – to stand out as different. Not entitled but serving. Not grasping for more but giving more. Not focused on stuff but instead focused on Jesus.

Make a plan. Adjust it yearly as the children grow. But have a plan and follow it. Your children and you will all benefit from making Christmas gift-giving more intentional.

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One Comment

  1. Solid advice, Tammie. For several years among friends and families, we have an agreed principle regarding gifts and a definite limit on spend. I can, therefore, endorse your guidelines as well worth the effort of implementing.
    Happy Christmas from the Highlands of Scotland.

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