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Parenting Through Gift Overload

Friendly Suggestions for Generous Family Members

Between our families, my wife and I have four sets of grandparents and three siblings on both sides. All of these people will be buying gifts for our two kids (ages six and eight), who are the only grandkids in the extended family so far. How do I teach my kids gratitude when this embarrassment of riches comes their way? 


I applaud you for asking this question! It is so easy to be so caught up in the frenzy of gift-giving that we lose the message of love. Guilt can take over, making us forget our true job as a parent: to raise children with the gifts of character – not entitlement. Our children begin to think they’re special and the world owes them, and heartsick parents report that their child turns around on Christmas morning and balefully asks, “Is this all?” It is in our job description as parents and caregivers to set boundaries on ourselves first, and then on our families, so we can resist the urge to pile on the gifts. 

But there is joy in giving gifts, right? It helps us feel connected with the recipient, and it sends a message that they matter to us. So, think it through. First, request that your family members only give one gift per child, but help them decide on a gift that creates connection. For instance, if Aunt Jill lives far away and gives a gift to her local Angel Tree in your son’s name, can he FaceTime with her and decide on the items needed? Or if she lives here, can Aunt Jill take the child shopping for the items needed? 

I have a friend whose family has agreed to only give one hand-made (or home-cooked) gift to each person. These are truly from the heart. Years ago, my sister began sending exactly one Christmas tin of her incredible chocolate chip cookies to each family. And that is a gift we look forward to every year! One of the most meaningful gifts to our children and nephews was a gift of a goat to a family in a developing country. We paired it with a children’s book about how that goat changed the lives of everyone in the community, and we read it together as a family. This created connection and gratitude, too! 

A gift of service is an awesome choice. A favorite Christmas memory in my family was sorting huge bags of donations at the Salvation Army. Our children worked hard and interacted with many families who would be receiving the gifts. It was such a joy. My brother regularly took his two boys to homeless shelters to give out blankets. We’ve also made up what we call blessing bags to give to the needy. You might encourage your children to use their own money to shop for items at Dollar Tree. 

What about that special gift our children have been wanting all year? Let the in-laws help with big-ticket items. Then ensure that the child writes a thank you note or gives a thank you call to Grandma and Grandpa. Some families bring home the scriptural message of Christmas by limiting gifts under the tree to just three, because that’s the number of gifts the Baby Jesus received. One friend shared that her family extended the time for opening gifts by having the children go on a scavenger hunt to find their third and final gift. Another friend uses a fun rhyme to guide her gift-giving for her children: Something you want, something you need, something to wear, and something to read. 

Keep your parental boundaries firm, but friendly. Start a family tradition that will deliver a message of love and generate true gratitude for years to come.  

Susan Townsend Holt, M.Ed, is a board-certified family life coach, parent educator with Everyday Parenting Solutions, and director of family ministry for Community West Church. She specializes in social/emotional skills for calmer and healthier families and classrooms. She is blessed with her husband of thirty-seven years and two adult daughters.
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