With more and more holiday toy catalogs arriving daily in the mailbox, two parenting experts are saying it’s time to rework tradition. Brent and Phelecia Hatch, authors of the book, Raising a G-Rated Family in an X-Rated World, urge parents to learn an important word this holiday season: No.
“'Tis the season for kids to chant, 'Buy, buy, buy,' and for the media to encourage huge spending on the latest toys, games, and electronic devices,” says Brent. Yet, he warns, “The more parents give in to 'Buy, buy, buy,' the more they later are left wondering, 'Why, why, why?'” His wife Phelecia agrees: “There are much better ways to celebrate the holidays and much better ways to show our children that we love them and care for them than giving in to their begging for materialistic things they've seen on television or in the newspaper ads.”
Brent and Phelecia, who are raising seven children of their own, share 10 tips that they say will not only make the holidays merrier, but will help to balance the budget, de-stress the season, and contribute to a “G-Rated” family atmosphere for the rest of the year.
- Stop the presses and turn off the tube. “I have a friend who throws the toy ads away on her way from the mailbox to the house,” says Phelecia. “Another friend had a child who was begging for a particular toy one year. When his parents asked him what it did, he responded, 'I don't know, but I want it anyway.'” Children have much less interest in the latest gadgets if they aren't spending time being bombarded with well-funded advertisements.
- Watch what you ask for. Parents are the best example for their children. If you fill your wish list with expensive items or demand a sleigh-full of things under the tree, your children will do likewise. Keep your own list simple and tell your children that you want non-material things for the holidays. Ask them to give you the gift of getting along with their siblings or of voluntarily cleaning their room for a week.
- Wrap up memories. “One year, before the holidays, we asked our children to make a list of the things they liked best about Christmas,” Phelecia says. “The lists were quite revealing and gave us guidelines for how we wanted to spend our time and money from that point on.” The Hatch children listed things like caroling together, going on a drive to see light displays, attending church services, and other things that cost very little and create wonderful memories.
- Give the gift of your time. Spend time with your children, making cards, hanging decorations, or wrapping gifts. Again, let the children choose activities that are meaningful and important to them. Brent says, “We have weekly Family Nights with our children and, during the holidays, we use that time to focus on teaching about giving and about what we consider the true meaning of Christmas, but also to help our children know that they are loved and cared about.”
- Select something special. Rather than being steered by what's popular this season, focus on your children's interests and then buy gifts accordingly. Focus on things that will mean something to them long after the season is over. Buy fewer things, but make them special ones.
- Get physical. Including physical activities throughout the season will help to de-stress and foster memories as well. Take walks, give younger children piggyback rides, work out together, or simply give your children an extra few hugs.
- Give gifts that keep on giving. Children love and appreciate gifts tailored to them, ones they can use again and again and that help them learn a skill or practice a talent. Give a camera, a craft item, a tool for their favorite hobby or a book about one of their talents.
- Give it away. Make it a practice to instill compassion and encourage generosity by involving your children in giving to others. Find a local charity where you can donate gift items or, even better, where you could go to help out or give service to someone who may be alone or particularly needy during the holidays.
- Make it a family affair. Talk with your children and let them help you plan and budget your gift-giving. You can even turn it into a game by setting up a “store” in your home and letting younger children practice “buying” gifts while staying within a budget. The Hatches set a limit of $100 each for the gifts they buy their children, and it is up to the children to plan their wish lists accordingly. “It is fun to see them try to budget,” Brent says. “They really prioritize what they want and they have learned what $100 buys. They see something they want and immediately want to know how much it is. It's surprising to hear them say, 'Oh, that's so expensive I don't really want that!'”
- Fill your home with holiday fun. Help your children experience the fun that comes from things that don't involve money and don't require a lot of hustle and bustle. Tell or read holiday stories together, listen to holiday music, or sing songs together.