Why I Withhold Gifts From My Kids

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Why This Is Our New Gift-Giving Tradition

We’ll try to continue to give as few new presents as possible. For my daughter’s upcoming fourth birthday, we’ll try a book swap, in which every kid brings a book to trade. It sounds better than up to 15 or more presents all at once, since the protocol seems to be to invite all the kids in my daughter’s preschool. It also avoids the awkwardness of a “no gifts” policy, which we’ve also tried. But it’s hard for people not to bring presents to a birthday party.

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Honestly, I don’t think that my daughter will mind. She’s pretty indifferent about gifts. I’m sure this will change, but we’re appreciating it for now.

We’re not strict “no toys” people. They have a huge developmental role to play when it comes to imagination, escapism and fun. I just don’t think it’s necessary to have tons of them, seeing as my daughter can play with whatever is around and use her imagination to fill in the blanks. All she needs for a picnic is a burp cloth for the ground covering, some stuffed animals for company and imaginary food.

Of course, we wouldn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable by turning down a gift. So we usually welcome the gift, integrating it into our lives as best we can. We do, however, censor toys we feel aren’t necessary: For example, I never gave her a cell phone gifted from a relative–I figure she’ll have enough electronic gadgets later on.

What This Means for the Future

I know her peers will be a huge influence on how she views materialism and consumerism, and hopefully we, as her family, will have influence as well. She’ll probably observe after a while that my husband and I aren’t huge gifters–we don’t exchange for birthdays, anniversaries or Christmas.

So far, my daughter hasn’t really asked for things. She even laughs at that Berenstein Bears book, “The Gimmies,” in which two kid bears throw temper tantrums because they don’t get the toys they want.

She seems good at self-regulating, but when she starts asking for things, we’ll need to provide limits. One option is an allowance, in which we’d make clear that she needs to cover what she wants for the week, and probably require her to save a certain amount and give it to charity.

A lot of our extended family is on board, too. My mother suggested giving animals through Heifer International for Christmas, which I thought was a great idea. My husband and I showed our daughter the catalog, and explained that not every kid in the world has a grocery store to go to when they want more to eat. She had fun picking out a goat that will provide milk, cheese and yogurt for a family.

Gift-giving may never be the same–and that’s a good thing.

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Shirley Park is a mom of two young children, who she hopes will appreciate the toys they have!

  • Lford

    What a beautiful gift you’ve given to your daughter.  I wish more people would follow that rule.  I have relatives that gave expensive gifts (and lots of them) to my 2 kids that they never played with!  Giving into your kids all the time makes them expect everything handed to them.

  • Stysonrn

    I 100% agree with everything you said! It is not healthy to get so many gifts at once. Yours is a voice of sanity! Bravo to your Mom too!

  • Frances

    Great insight.  We always made sure that there was  a book, a craft type item,a toy,   music item & clothing item.  Gettting the in-laws in made sure it was not a gift overload. My children had series of books for many years.A harmonica  to an  acoustic guitar help develope sense of arts and love of reading in both my children. 
    Also by doing this this gave realtives directions on what the children liked.

  • Frances

    Great article.  We started with a list, a book,toy,craft item,a music item and clothing. My children have recieve book  series,an acoustic guitar,harmonica ect.
    This also help the extended family too! My adult children are avid readers, appreciate the arts,volunteer for causes they believe in and both are college grads. We now give gift to hiefier international in their names.

  • Guest

    What a great article! Thank you for the great ideas, Shirley! We always limit the gifts for Xmas to one gift from Mom&Dad and one gift from Santa. I ask kids to put several items on Santa’s list so that he can choose one. However, my younger son’s birthday is right before Xmas and he still finishes up with LOTS of toys from the family… Heifer International is my favorite charity, too. They teach people to feed themselves instead of counting on somebody to provide for them.