Presents! Presents! Presents! You know how excited children become as Christmas approaches? Yes, it is the time of year when their excitement becomes palpable, stimulated for sure by the endless advertisements, the famous letter to Santa Claus and the question they are asked repeatedly at this time of year: "What would you like for Christmas?". Exchanging gifts is an age-old tradition and when we think of Christmas we often picture a beautifully decorated Christmas tree, and underneath it piles of gleaming parcels wrapped in red, gold and multi-coloured paper. For your children, Christmas is a magical time...in truth, that magic remains for many grown-ups, as the child inside them lives on! But how to manage all those presents? How many and what kind of gifts should you give your children? Let’s consider the matter as we try to reflect on the best policy.
The meaning of gifts
The act of giving someone a present is a process that actually begins long before the purchase of the item. Gift giving is not just a transaction whereby ownership of a product is transferred to someone else; instead, it has a deeper meaning. What really counts is undoubtedly the THOUGHT devoted to someone that we cherish and the ability to identify with them, so it is no coincidence that the words "gift" and "present" can be replaced with the words "keepsake" or "reminder" (the Scots language also has the lovely expression "a wee minding"! ").
So when we give children a present, this is the important message that we aim to convey: it is a way of showing them that we have been thinking about them, that we care, and our gift or "minding” is a token of our love and affection. However, as a result of our consumer society which is at times excessive, this aspect can be confused with a false mathematical equation: the bigger (and more expensive) the present, the more love it shows. Obviously this is NOT the case and it is up to parents to teach their children from a young age to understand the real meaning of gift giving, namely: "I think of you and I care about you".
Another fundamental aspect when it comes to presents is the element of SURPRISE, the latter being one of the primary emotions. In this case, surprise triggers a positive reaction in children as they try to take in everything is around them: opening a parcel whose contents they cannot imagine is a highly "positive" emotion which stimulates their observation and curiosity, encouraging them to seek information ("So how does this toy work? Where did you get it? Can we play with it together?).
Another fundamental aspect is SHARING: a present should always be opened in the presence of the person giving it, to see the reactions on both individual’s faces, and to share a moment of joy, affection and warmth. That is why it is important to make time to allow the person receiving the gift and the person giving it to come together to share their thanks, to talk and (why not?) to play together
How many and what kind of presents should children receive?
There is no hard-and-fast rule in response to this question, but parents being in agreement is undoubtedly a good start, as they should be the ones who give "guidance" as to the amount and type of presents their children can receive. It can often be tricky to juggle different ideas from grandparents, aunts and uncles, other relatives and friends, and although you are not obliged as parents to decide what presents others can give your children, being generally in agreement can help avoid an excessive number of gifts, or multiples of the same item.
Sometimes children can make it perfectly clear that they are less than satisfied with a gift received. It is a good idea to help your children from a young age to appreciate that it is the thought that counts and not the gift itself, so that little by little they learn to appreciate the deeper meaning that we mentioned earlier.
Compared to in the past, today there is a much wider variety of toys available, from classic, interactive and manipulative toys, to construction sets, sound and musical games, quizzes...and children are inevitably influenced by what they see and hear, so choosing the right item can be complicated. Common sense clearly guides us towards something that is fun and/educational on the one hand, but also something the child will be able to enjoy for a long time to come, otherwise they will soon tire of the present and discard it without further ado. This can be summed up by the phrase: quality not quantity, in other words children benefit most from a select number of thoughtful presents suited to their age and likes; presents chosen to create that surprise and curiosity we mentioned, and which therefore stimulate them to continue playing for a prolonged period of time.
A mini guide for parents grappling with Christmas presents
- Children of course ask for presents, but what they really hope for is the chance to play together.
- Create a little gift card with a nice sentiment, a drawing done by you. If your child cannot read yet, they will certainly still be able to identify something you have made by yourself.
- Establish something of a ritual when it comes to opening presents (all together, with an accompanying song or rhyme to create the right atmosphere, or perhaps a small performance, then announce the present in a fun, amusing way...your children are sure to remember the toy they got that Christmas, but also how much mum or dad made them laugh, behaving like that!)
- Involve your children in choosing and giving Christmas presents to grandparents, aunts and uncles and friends, so they learn the real meaning of gift giving.
- It can be really nice to involve them in gift wrapping too: the results will not be perfect, but it will certainly be a lovely experience for them to share
- If your child receives more than one present, make sure they have time to dedicate to each one, so that they can enjoy the quality of the moment and not the quantity of gifts.
- Be sure to set a good example: always express thanks even when a gift is perhaps a little underwhelming, "teaching" gratefulness is a process that takes time, but it is definitely important!
- Remember that there is no mathematical equation that says big presents equal love!
Naturally, these are just a few considerations and it is up to you as parents to decide how many and what kind of presents to give your child, but do not forget to choose the best present of all: TIME! Have fun!