Family conversations help kids keep emotional balance with gifts

Every year my family made the one hour and forty-five minute drive to Grandma’s house. When I got there, I always found the cookie jar full of chocolate chip or peanut butter cookies and my grandmother hovering over a steaming pot of homemade noodles. My cousins, aunts and uncles were all there and the tables were set and ready for giving thanks and serving a turkey dinner.

Grandma would give me a hardy hug and kiss and then back she went, stirring her gravy and checking in on the green beans. Grandma took great pride in cooking for her family and she spent her hours in the kitchen thinking about her children and grandchildren. I hope she knew how much I thrived on her acceptance — and turkey dressing. She gave everything in abundance.

This holiday season your children will be the recipients of many gifts. Gifts of good cheer from neighbors, spiritual gifts, gifts of music, the gift of family, and yes, gifts of sugarplums and pricey toys.

According to businessinsider.com, Americans spend over $700 dollars each year on gifts. The website displays consumer spending patterns for this time of year with a fun layout of facts. Did you know that 152 million Americans spend $52 billion dollars on Black Friday each year. That’s a lot a moola. It makes me wonder. Is it better to give or to receive?

Emily Post says that when giving and receiving gifts, it is most important to remember that the spirit of the gift is more important than the gift itself. So true.

However, it is a tall order for an 8-year-old to keep the giver in mind while holding in their hands the new Shake It Up: I Heart Dance Video or the LEGO City 60022 Cargo Terminal Toy Building Set. These are the hot toys this holiday season, according to a popular consumer website. Count the days until your children see the advertisements!

Keeping the emotional balance between the spirit of the gift and the gift itself is generally difficult for young children. It is also a perfect opportunity for parents to support their child’s healthy social and emotional growth. You can help prepare your child for giving season by asking questions like, “Why do you think your brother gave you that ring-toss game for your birthday last month?” Or, “What gifts did you get last year that you still wear or use?” Having recently shared stories like these will help your child keep a balanced perspective as they rip open or ceremonially unwrap their gifts.

With expectations high, the potential for your child to be disappointed about a gift they received is a given. Help your child cope by acknowledging their disappointment and staying focused on the positive. You might say something like, “I can see you are disappointed that your aunt did not give you the colored markers you wanted. But maybe you can try out the art chalk she sent by making a thank you card for her with them.”

Receiving gifts is a natural and significant thing for most children and their excitement and appreciation is evident. But for some kids the attention focused on them when given a compliment or gift is overwhelming. Over-exuberance, tantrums, or extreme indifference could be signs of stress, lack of rest, poor diet, or too much stimulation. Consider adjusting your family’s holiday routines to give them plenty of time for relaxation. It might also help to alter your holiday eating habits to help keep you feeling positive and energetic.

Some children consistently have difficulty making eye contact, have a pattern of turning away or will become uncomfortably silly when greeted with attention. This could be related to an emerging developmental challenge and is worth discussing with your pediatrician.

The giving season is a chance for children to replenish themselves with the love and protection of their parents, family and friends. It is a time when good cheer and well wishes are abundant for the taking, and the more your child absorbs, the more they will give in return.

A joyful family is a family that always remembers that the spirit of the gift is more important than the gift itself. Especially when the spirit is wrapped up in a jar full of peanut butter cookies.