Steering our boys away from consumerism and toward qualities like kindness and generosity is a huge priority for my husband and me. And though we do a pretty good job, every year we struggle at Christmas. Between the desire to create a magical experience for our kids and making sure each one feels seen and loved, it’s easy to get caught up in the “more is more” mentality. But we’re ultimately raising men here, not perpetual 4-year-olds, and I want to do it well. If you’re like us, you’re also wondering, “How many gifts should your children get at Christmas?” And while some people attest that there’s a sacred number (this mom says three) or magic formula, most child development experts say it’s a more nuanced question than that.
Bette Levy Alkazian, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Southern California, says parents should take into consideration the amount of gifts their children will be receiving from extended family members when making holiday purchases. 20 gifts is too many, Alkazian believes, but two or three may be too few. The therapist’s best advice? Have your children make a wish list, but don’t get them everything on it. Assess the number based on your family values.
So how do you narrow down little Johnny’s 100-item list to, say, five? “I recommend to parents that they get their kids the things they have wanted the longest,” Alkazian tells Romper in an exclusive interview. “Delayed gratification is a huge value we want to instill in our kids and to teach them that good things come to those who wait. Plus, they appreciate those things more that they have longed for for a period of time. This is a great antidote to entitlement and greed.”
But being intentional about the spirit of the holiday can’t be quantified in the number of presents alone; sometimes our actions or lack thereof override the actual gift count. Michelle Gale, author of Mindful Parenting in a Messy World, has some advice on how to parent during the holidays with mindfulness. “Slow down when opening gifts,” she advises Romper. “Depending on the age of your children, consider having each person share a short memory of the person who gave them the gift they are about to open. Picture them in their mind’s eye and send them love. Then rip that present open!”
Sounds fun, right? And also — equally as important to those of us with three ring circuses for homes — actually manageable. Plus, it doesn’t give a written in stone amount of presents your child should have. Instead, it’s about the intention behind the gifts.
Gale also proposes taking action outside the home as a family. Christmas is an easy time to find a local volunteer opportunity no matter what developmental stage your children are in. Families with older kids might enjoy serving food and sharing a meal with others at a Salvation Army lunch on Christmas Day. If your kids are still too little for something like that, consider visiting an assisted living community or making holiday cards for those in the hospital and the doctors and nurses caring for them, Gale suggests.
While there is likely not a magic number of gifts that is right for every family, there is certainly a need in our society to deemphasize the “gimmes” in this season — for children and adults. Spend some set-aside time with your spouse to discuss the best way to approach the holidays for your unique family. Maybe three gifts per person is right for you; maybe you’ll do more, but they’ll include necessities like pajamas and winter coats. Regardless of the number of presents under the tree, the heart of the holiday is about giving rather than receiving; and any way that you can instill that concept into your children is a total win.