I Am Protective

You never want your child to feel left out, devalued or disappointed. So, when they come to you with their holiday wish list full of new items they seem to think they deserve, what do you do? Do you give them everything they long for or, do you take the time to help them appreciate the things that are truly valuable? Here are some tips to keep the “reason for the season” the focus in your home this holiday.

Create Family Traditions

What do you remember most? The year you got a baby doll or the year your entire family went ice skating and your dad couldn’t keep his balance? Research shows that people are happier when they have strong emotional experiences rather than when they receive gifts or are spending money 1.  So make a concerted effort to create or engage in traditions this holiday. It’s best if these traditions don’t involve spending money. For example, you can view a traditional Christmas Eve movie, or make a holiday treat together as a family. Incorporate things that are valuable, yet fun, and make some memories! Creating traditions will allow your children to create experiences with you. Experiences and memories will last a lifetime, while the video game will be forgotten as soon as the next generation is released.

Give Back

Let’s lead by actions and not just words. I’m sure you tell your children ‘the reason for the season’ but how often do they actually get to experience the purpose of the holidays? If we  want them to know and develop an understanding of the joy felt when they help others, there’s no better way to cement our purpose than extending grace to others.  Take time to make sure the event is age appropriate. A teenager may be emotionally mature enough to help at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter. Maybe your younger child can go with a parent to donate toys to less fortunate children or write notes to children spending their holidays in a hospital. Regardless of what you decide, make sure you give your child the ‘gift’ of experiencing a selfless act of kindness. They’ll remember their experience for years to come.

Encourage the Senses and Break the Rules

The whole family can enjoy this strategy! We can definitely let ourselves indulge in all the holidays have to offer. Take your children for walks, admiring the beautiful decorations and prompt them to comment on all the colors, sights, and sounds surrounding them. Help them fully take in the beauty of it all. Better yet, let them eat cake! Yes, allow their taste buds to explode with delight and enjoy all the tastes and smells of the holiday creations. One of the benefits of the holiday season is good food. Food helps us bond and is the most common social activity. So engage: eat, laugh, and give thanks to the cook.

Set a Limit

This may be the most important tip of them all. When people prioritize materialistic items, their emotional well-being tends to suffer 2. When monetary or material items are glorified, children are more likely to behave in selfish and manipulative ways. Therefore, we need to help children focus on more than the gift exchange. It is difficult to offer direct advice on this topic. The limits set by parents depend on several variables: finances, household size, age of child, customs, etc. However, you should carefully consider what a reasonable, and not excessive, limit is and stick to it. Think about quantity (three items) or price (maximum of $300), and let the child have a voice. Obviously this will be different for a three year-old, but this can help older children practice a multitude of skills. Children can learn to delay gratification: “I’ll get these items at Christmas and wait to get this other one for my birthday.” Children also practice decision making: “I can get this one expensive item or four of the less expensive things I want.” Of upmost importance, we instill the fact that in life we make tough decisions, and overindulgence is not an option.

In the end, the holiday season should help you and your family grow together and celebrate what is most important to you. Keep that in mind this season, and it is sure to be more wonderful than ever.

  1. Kasser, T., & Sheldon, K. M. (2002). What makes for a merry Christmas?. Journal of Happiness Studies, 3(4), 313-329.
  2. Kasser, T. (2011). Materialistic value orientation. In Handbook of Spirituality and Business(pp. 204-211). Palgrave Macmillan UK

Marion Wallace, PhD is a licensed clinical psychologist. She is currently on faculty at The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) in the Child Psychiatry department. Dr. Wallace completed her doctoral training at The University of Southern Mississippi and her pre-doctoral internship at Indiana University School of Medicine. She has experience in the assessment and treatment of a wide range of disorders and is adept at conducting individual, group, and family therapy. Dr. Wallace has previously worked in medical, residential, and community settings and has experience working with interdisciplinary teams. Research interests include self-perception variables (i.e., self-esteem, narcissism, Machiavellianism) and coercive behaviors. However, her true passion is fostering clients’ strengths so that they might lead productive, purposed, and satisfied lives.

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