I love Christmas. I'm a 'Christmas' baby, born in December, and I love the whole season. I loved it as a kid, I love it with my own kids. But that's not the case for everyone.
A big part of that dislike can be the burden and drama of buying gifts for your kids. For all the Dr Seuss reminders that Christmas is about more than presents, it comes with the pain of managing expectations, managing budgets and managing the amount of stuff you have in your home. It can make the whole season miserable and Christmas day itself pretty bitter.
So here's four simple principles we hold in our family about Christmas gifting - and gifting more generally - to lighten the burden for us and make sure we're raising grateful kid.
1. Gifts are not earned, they're gifts.
I’ve always disliked that idea of the naughty and nice list (though I do love this viral video of a kid being told he’s not getting any gifts because he’s been too naughty!)
I know it’s all a bit of fun, but underlining it is an important point. The point of a gift is that it’s not earned. It’s why dutiful, obligatory gifts feel so bad. (Watch Martin Lewis talk about how we could all do a better job of not giving, especially poignant at this time of year).
We should give gifts as a sign of our love and appreciation for people. To show them that we care. They cost us, but that’s the point. It costs. They are a declaration of love and love always comes with sacrifice. None of that has anything to do with desert or what's owed. It’s not a payment for good deeds. It’s the juicy extra bit, the fat of life. Gifting is the bit that says forget about what you’ve done, it’s not about what you've earned.
That’s why I’m not a fan of naughty and nice lists. Pocket money for chores is great. I'm all for teaching kids that there are things that are earned. That hard work and effort and trying your best pays off. But gifts are about being loved. And we love our kids unconditionally. We love them because of who they are to us, not what they do.
So to help your kids learn the difference between what’s earned, and what’s given freely out of grace we do away with the idea of a naughty list and make a big deal out of gifting purely because they our kids are loved.
2. You can gift 'needs' as well as 'wants'
The truth is for kids, all of their young life is a gift. Kids really don’t do anything to earn the roof over their head, the food in their bellies or the shoes on their feet. It’s all out of love and who they are to us. Yet sometimes we get caught up in gifts at Christmas as if everything else they receive isn’t already a gift.
As a helpful reminder that everything they have in life is gifted, that everything they have is because we love them, it's good to wrap up things at Christmas that they need. Gifts for kids don't always have to be a toy, or something they’ve asked for. Sometimes it’s the new pair of shoes they need that coincides nicely with Christmas time. Sometimes it’s the healthy snacks we might have bought anyway in the grocery shop. This is not a scrooge mentality (more on fun below!) but, about showing them that all year round they are loved. That Christmas isn’t special because they get more ‘stuff’ it’s just another occasion to show how much they are loved. How much they are loved doesn’t change throughout the rest of the year when they need new clothes or a haircut, or some new toys and we provide all these things for them as well.
This approach is also helpful because it can take the pressure off coming up with new things to buy. In a small London flat it can be hard to keep adding more ‘new’. There's enough clutter and stuff that needs a home from just daily living without always needing to add new toys.
Gifting what our kids want can also put a burden on tight family finances. Trying to come up with more things to buy your kids when you’re struggling for the basics already is tough. Don't be afraid to gift your kids the things they need that are in your budget.
Finally, little kids just love the concept of unwrapping things. And really little kids just love wrapping full stop. So whatever you choose to give them will be novel. The concept of a gift, the surprise and the unwrapping is enough without worrying about what it is exactly you’ve bought them. If it's something they need that was already planned, it will be received with as much delight.
3. It’s okay to have fun.
Maybe this is common knowledge, but for some of us (okay, maybe just me) we’re not the primary fun bringers to the parenting relationship. For me, as you might have seen in points 1 and 2 (and 4 below), I get caught up in the meaning, the purpose and the character shaping stuff. That means gifting can quickly become about raising our kids right, worrying about whether we’re spoiling them or doing enough for them to build them into the adults we want them to become.
I think those things are all great and I stand by them – of course I do, that’s why I am the way I am - but there’s room for more of the fun when it comes to gifting. I’m blessed that Shreya brings the fun to this whole gifting season, but I could learn to appreciate it a whole lot more too.
What I can learn, is that there’s fun to be had from a whole range of gifts, and that prioritising fun is also good. Parties are great, celebrations are to be appreciated in of themselves, and fun really can just be that – fun. The beauty of Christmas and the presents we might be able to buy our kids, is that they can be frivolous. Not everything needs a deeper meaning and we can ‘spoil’ our kids because we love them and we want to see them have a good time. It’s important to keep that in mind even if you're preoccupied - like me - with getting the parenting bit right!
4. Trust the people that know the kids best with what to get them.
I love to buy presents that serve kids where they are at. Their interests, their skills and talents, their vulnerabilities.
When Shreya and I were first married and buying presents originally for our nieces and nephews, we always wanted to ask our siblings (their parents) what to get them. Sometimes we’d be inspired ourselves and bring our own ideas, other times we just wouldn’t really know what would best serve the kids (and the parents!) so we’d ask.
Part of the beauty of gifting is of course that you get to get something for someone – it’s a part of you you’re sharing. You choose something you think is great. It’s something you’ve sought out and been inspired by. You’ve thought about that person and taken the time and care to buy or make it for them. But there’s obviously the other large part of gifting that’s all about the person receiving the gift. That part is about knowing them and loving them enough to get something you think (or ideally know) they’ll love. And so gifting is really a question of knowing the little ones in your life.
When it's your own kids, that means trusting yourself and what you know about your kids. Get inspired by gifting lists for kids by all means, but ultimately, don’t feel like you have to choose something because that’s what ‘kids’ in the general sense are into these days. Get something your particular kid with their particular quirks are into. It might be boring for someone else’s kid, but if your kid loves it, that’s what matters.
If you’re buying for a kid that’s not your own child and you’re wondering where to begin, ask for ideas from their parent, or if they're slightly older, ask the kid themselves. Bring your inspiration, share what you’d like to do and why, but invite the parent and then maybe the child into it. It’ll help make sure you don’t waste time or money, but more importantly it’ll draw you into their lives.
And here’s the secret. Giving presents when it’s not your own child isn’t really about the ‘thing’ at all. It’s an opportunity to involve yourself in their lives. To discover more about their interests, who they are and what they enjoy. If you’re not as close to those little ones as you’d like to be, it’s a way into their world. A good first step is to talk to their parents about what they're into.
There's plenty more you could say on gifting. But I think these four principles are a great guiding light (very seasonal!) for buying gifts for kids this Christmas that will make sure you get a great balance in what matters, and what doesn't when it comes to buying presents.