Gift Giving from Your Heart and Your Head
As parents, it’s natural for us to want to give our children the things we didn’t have. And in today’s world, it’s often easy to confuse the wants of our children with their actual needs. Often we respond to every “I want” because we can and it makes us feel good, not necessarily because we should. Especially during the holidays, many of us tend to give generously to our children even those of us who typically practice moderation.
There are an infinite numbers of toys, games, and treats in today’s world. And no matter how much our children have, they will always want more, and there will always be a friend who has more. How can we change this mindset and raise caring and giving children that know the importance of giving rather than getting? How do we avoid over spoiling our kids during the holidays? Here are some tips on how we can teach our children to moderate their wants, be thankful for what they have, and give to others.
Here we are again; it’s hard to believe that we’re less than 30 days until Christmas. With Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the rear-view window, it’s likely that the gift-buying feeding frenzy may have already begun for you; however, it’s not too late to truly enjoy the spirit of the holiday.
Why would you want the kids to see you in the store on Christmas Eve (which also happens to be the first night of Hanukkah and two days before the start of Kwanzaa), pulling your hair out and buying stupid ties for Uncle Al that his new bride will immediately put into the “Regifting Closet?” How can you salvage this holiday? Let your kids see that there is a plan. Okay, you may have missed it for this year, but the good news is that you get a redo for next year. Some of the activities mentioned below can even start during this holiday season, while others can begin as New Year’s resolutions.
Gift Giving: Come from Your Heart and Your Head
Fair exchange is at the heart of most of the financial life skills lessons I’ve discussed in my articles. That’s not quite true in the case of gift giving and receiving. This is the area where the heart comes first. But, there’s plenty of room for the head to operate in the service of the heart. There are rules and guidelines that can eliminate confusion, frustration, and uncertainty and make the giving and receiving of gifts the experience of sharing from the heart that it was meant to be.
Here are some steps to avoid tears at the holidays:
Step 1 – Plan in advance. Want a great gift for this year to get you started on holiday planning for next year? Buy a gift-giving calendar for every member of the family. Everyone can, of course, do this via an online calendar, as well.
Step 2 – Mark all the holidays like Christmas, etc., where your family traditionally exchanges gifts.
Step 3 – Now check off birthdays, anniversaries, graduations or any other special events that will be happening during the year. Each time a “Save the Date” card shows up, make sure that the kids note it on their calendar.
The Gift Should Say, “I Care About You,” Not “Look How Much I Spent”
Make sure your kids understand the importance of giving appropriately. An overgenerous gift can indicate too much of a need for approval or control, it can embarrass the receiver, or it can signal the beginning of an unhealthy materialistic competition. Make sure your kids remember that in all situations, financial responsibility is about fairness in financial dealings as a key to fairness in all dealings.
Your family is a good place to set a limit on spending. The limit can be a function of age — the older children, who have more, can have a larger budget if that works for your family. It may not. The younger kids may feel hurt that they can’t buy something as nice for Mom or Grandpa; if that’s the case, there are ways around that. You can explain to kids that parents and grandparents love all gifts the same, no matter how much is spent for them. (And, you can explain to your older kids, if they’re lording it over their younger siblings, that they’ve found a good way to kill the spirit of giving, and they’d better cut it out.) If this continues to be a problem, you can consider subsidizing the younger kids. Set a spending limit for all the kids based on the allowance of the oldest and make up the difference for the younger ones.
A better solution is to have the kids pool their resources for one gift, with everyone putting in what they can afford as a percentage of their allowance. Once they all know how much they are going to be spending on gifts, they can begin to create a savings schedule. If they take the cost of the gift and divide it by the amount they will allocate from their allowance each week, they know how many weeks they are going to have to save. They can then go back and mark their calendars they know when they need to start saving.
For very important gift recipients within the family — perhaps parents or grandparents — you may want to help your kids get that special gift. They should still work for each gift they’re giving, but you can help them with a matching fund. In other words, if they save diligently according to the schedule you’ve agreed upon, you’ll match the total. Do this if you can afford it; don’t do it if you can’t. Discuss what gifts can be subsidized with a matching fund in your family meeting.
Don’t let your kids get caught up in the spirit of giving as being limited to gifts. This is the perfect time of year (if you haven’t done this yet) to get your kids involved in volunteering their time. Let the older ones’ research places to volunteer. Have them start with local nursing homes or hospitals. Your kids can read or play board games with ill kids or the elderly. But, let them come up with their own ideas!
Last year’s toys and games can also be donated to worthy causes. I love when kids buy a matching gift for another child. Explain to your kids that many children go without toys, food, or coats for the holidays. This helps your children take the focus off themselves. Let them experience the great feelings of gratitude for their bounty as they see others as they give of themselves. Teach them the words of Kahlil Gibran, “I slept and I dreamed that life is all joy. I woke and I saw that life is all service. I served and I saw that service is joy.”
It takes courage to let your guard down and truly follow your heart. Live and give with an open heart because you never know who might fall in it. Share this with friends and family members you care about they will thank you for it.