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Learning about gifts and giving

Shirley Ritter
Parent Talk

One of the things that keeps getting more and more difficult about the holiday season is trying to counteract the blatant commercialization of this time of year. It’s a full-time job trying to help our children understand the importance of family traditions and giving, rather than what they want to receive.

One of the reasons we all experience this struggle is because our expectations are encouraged to far exceed the reality of our needs or our pocketbooks and the holidays are shown on television as joyful and trouble free. For most of us the opposite is true — the holidays are stressful and expensive and certainly not free from strife and trouble.

As parents, you need to be realistic about how much of the holiday you want to revolve around buying things and how much you want to be centered on being together and enjoying each other. Start by setting a clear budget and then work hard on not exceeding it. Advertising has children believing that they must be consumers and must have a particular toy to make their lives complete. We parents need to take an active role in countering this message by both word and deed.

As long as gifts are going to be a part of our holidays, children should be included in the process of buying gifts for others — grandparents, parents, siblings, etc. It takes a lot more time to go shopping with a child but the lesson learned is that the holidays aren’t just about ME getting gifts; holidays are also about getting or making gifts for others. Wrapping the gifts they have helped select extends a child’s participation in gift giving. Who cares if the paper is rumpled and the bow is off-center? What matters is that the child has spent time preparing a gift to give to someone else. It’s our job to teach a child that it is better to give than to receive. This is not an innate wisdom, especially in a world filled with the opposite messages.

We can also extend the gift-giving process by talking with children about giving to others outside of our families. There are numerous causes to which you as a family could choose to contribute or volunteer time. Taking a child to a store to buy a toy for a program like Toys for Tots or LIFT-UP and then bringing the toy and actually putting it in a barrel is a practical exercise in sharing what we have with another family who doesn’t have as much. Older children can help select an agency that serves people in need. They can also be encouraged to donate some of their own money as well. It’s not the amount they give, it’s the idea of giving that makes the difference.

What experiences can you do together as a family? How about decorating a tree, lighting a menorah, singing songs, telling and reading stories and making cookies to give away to the neighbors. Few, if any, of us remember a particular gift we received on a particular long-ago holiday but many of us hold dear memories of those times because our society was less commercial and more family oriented. The best gift we can give our own children is their own loving holiday memories to sustain them when they are adults with children of their own.

Make this the year you enjoy being with each other, reduce your stress and your children’s, and work on making those new holiday traditions for your family.

— Kids First provides information and funding for early childhood programs and families in Pitkin County. For information, contact Shirley Ritter, Kids First Director at 920-5363 or shirley.ritter@cityofaspen.com.


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