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It’s often said that the holidays are for children. We love to see the season through our children’s eyes and we love to present things for their enjoyment. We think of giving our children gifts but we might not remember to give them the best gift the season has to offer: the gift of giving.

While you’re planning things this month to give to your children, in the form of presents, trips to see Santa, cookie-decorating binges and other fun, remember to get them involved in giving to others. While certainly this can include giving to a local charity or volunteering to deliver meals to the underprivileged, these are mostly family events and family decisions. What I’m thinking of here is much more personal. Children need to choose, buy (or make) and wrap gifts for other family members, with as little help from you as possible.

Our desire to achieve holiday perfection gets in the way here. We know what each person in the family wants and we may have already decided what each person will receive from each child. We are tempted to just tell a child, “Wouldn’t this be a great gift for Daddy?” or for Grandma or whomever and short-circuit the child’s own thinking. We might even buy the gift ourselves, just letting the child wrap it. We might even do the wrapping, just letting the child sign the tag.

As you know yourself, giving gifts is lovely fun. Part of gift-giving is deciding what to give. Another part is doing the actual shopping (or making). Then there is the wrapping. Finally, there is the giving of the gift. When we do just about all of these steps for our child, letting him do only the handing over of a package we decided on, purchased, and wrapped ourselves, we have limited the pleasure our child gets from the holiday season. And we have allowed him to think that he only has to be concerned with what he gets not what he gives.

So, if this has been your path in the past, this is the year to do things differently. Any child old enough to understand the idea of giving someone else a gift – from about age three on up – should do her own pondering of what each recipient on her giving list might want. The giving list should be short – probably just immediate family members for older kids and just the parents for tiny folks.

What to buy should be restricted only by feasibility and cost. Do not try to steer a child’s choice of gift in any way. Instead ask, “What will you give to Daddy for Christmas?” and see what the child says. If she has no ideas, don’t supply any. Say, “What do you think Daddy likes?” If you still get nowhere, say, “Well, think about it. I’ll ask you again later.”

Thinking about others is the hardest part. Your child may come back with something the child would like. The younger the child, the more okay this is. Remember that your child’s understanding of each family member is filtered through the activities they do together. So your preschooler may suggest that Daddy would like a ball or some Legos. This is fine. Don’t correct him.

The next step is going shopping. Your child will likely need a stipend from you for this and a dollar limit. There’s no need to spend the entire amount if the child is happy with something less expensive. So you and your child might go shopping for Daddy and might buy him a ball for $.99. Your child does all the choosing with minimal guidance from you. Great.

Maybe your child thinks Daddy would like a new car or something else that is out-of-the-question. Instead of completely redirecting, suggest that the child could buy Daddy a model of the car he would like to have or a toy version of it. It is, after all, the thought that counts.
If in the past your family gifts from the children have been gifts chosen and purchased by adults, then it’s a good idea to let everyone in on the new method. This way Daddy won’t be surprised by getting a ball or a Hot Wheel from his son or daughter and he will help your children think of and shop for similar gifts for you.

Now watch on Christmas morning, as your children are excited to see the gifts they chose be opened and admired. Notice how happy they are and how involved they are in the act of giving. You wouldn’t want to deprive them of this joy.

Giving, not getting, is the most fun the season offers. Let your kids in on it!

© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.