Children's Health

Encourage Children To Look Beyond Gifts

Child Psychologist Offers Tips to Focus on Traditions Instead of Presents

No matter what holiday children and families celebrate, it’s easy for children to get a case of “the gimmes.” Parents often hear “I want this” or “I want that.” It can be difficult to look beyond the holiday advertising and encourage children to embrace what the season is all about.

“Whether you celebrate Kwanzaa, Hanukkah or Christmas, parents know it’s not the actual gifts but what’s behind the gifts that are important,” said Steve Pastyrnak Ph.D, division chief, psychology, Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. “Helping children learn the fun of giving, and how rewarding it can be to select and wrap something special for someone they care about can be challenging but it is possible.”

Four-year-old Michael and six-year-old Hannah Redmond of Ada benefit from a parental philosophy that places the emphasis on traditions rather than gifts.’

“Our family looks at this time of year as an entire season rather than just one day,” said Coleen Redmond, Michael and Hannah’s mom. “We take advantage of local seasonal offerings, many of which cost little or no money. From watching the Santa parade and drinking hot chocolate to making gifts for family members, we are trying to teach the children to focus on others. It’s not always easy but as a family we’re really focused on the spirit of giving.”

Pastyrnak encourages parents to help decrease materialism and increase a focus on the meaning of the season.

Teach Children to Question Advertising Messages

  • Explain that commercials are designed to create demand for things people don’t necessarily need. Talking to kids about what things are like in reality can help put things into perspective.
  • Ask thought-provoking questions to get children thinking about the products they see advertised.
    • “Do you think you need that product? If so, why?”‘
    • ‘”Do you think that product will make you happy? If so, why?”
  • Limit your child’s exposure to TV commercials by following suggestions from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
    • Encourage children to watch public television
    • Tape programs and watch without commercials
    • Buy or rent children’s movies

Focus on Family Traditions

  • Talk about which family traditions your family loves the most and find a way to put emphasis on them. If you love the tradition of lighting the menorah, get together as a group to make your own candles.
  • Find out what the holidays mean to others. Have your children talk to a grandparent or aunt about how they spent the holidays growing up.
  • Create new traditions. Ask your children what they would enjoy doing every year and make an effort to do it. If you can’t all decide on one thing, create several traditions so everyone feels like part of the festivities.

Give Gifts with Meaning

  • Gift giving will likely always be a large part of the holiday season and with good reason. It can teach children to understand what makes others happy and what’s important to people they care about. Watching loved ones’ faces as they open presents that your children put a lot of thought into can make the holidays more worthwhile for your kids.
  • Teach your children how to put real meaning into their gifts. Making their own gifts can make the experience of giving so much more rewarding for both parties.

Be a Role Model

Show your children that the holidays can be joyous and fulfilling, not just a stress-ridden time that revolves around marathon shopping trips. Emphasize that it’s not about getting piles of presents but giving and receiving a few heartfelt gifts.

“By starting early with traditions that emphasize the true meaning of the holidays, parents can help to frame a child’s perspective,” added Pastyrnak. “Values emphasized during the holiday season often apply, and benefit, children all year long.”

Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital is West Michigan’s largest children’s hospital, serving children and families throughout a 37-county region. A teaching hospital, it includes more than 150 pediatric specialty physicians uniquely skilled in providing medical and surgical care to children in more than 40 pediatric specialties. The hospital cares for more than 7,500 inpatients and 150,000 outpatients annually. Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital is committed to caring for children and families with compassion, excellence and innovation.