Holiday gift-giving: What do kids really want?

Positively Parenting is a monthly column in which we pose a question submitted by one of our readers to a local professional or expert regarding parenting issues. This month we received a question from a reader about how to keep gift-giving for kids under control during the holiday season. For the answer, we turned to local therapist Bonnie Compton.

QUESTION: “I would love to make the holidays as meaningful as possible for my children. How do I keep gift-giving from getting out of control and losing its significance?”


The holiday season is a joyous occasion for many. However, I’ve noticed many families becoming overwhelmed by the holidays. I’ve heard parents say in frustration, “I wish I could cancel all the holiday celebrations and gift-giving!” They’ve expressed that holidays don’t seem to be like they used to be…a time to reflect and celebrate family time together. Parents lament that their kids seem to focus more on getting gifts rather than the true meaning of the holiday.

Gift-giving has gotten out of control for many families. And many parents are conflicted about making changes, often fearing their children will be disappointed. My observation over the many years I’ve worked with children and parents is that kids don’t really want more stuff.

I’ve asked children and teens in my practice if they had one wish, what would they ask for? Most, if not all have said more time with my parents…more family time. That may seem hard to believe, especially if you have an eye-rolling teen, but this is what your kids are truly asking for.

They’re also looking for your guidance in helping them discover what really matters in life. More toys, digital devices, or loving relationships with friends and family?

So how can you keep gift giving from getting out-of-control? By consciously creating your holiday season. By setting your own intention. And by taking the time before you jump into full holiday mode to ask yourself and your family, what really matters to you?

Here are few tips and reminders to get you started…

• Your kids want your presence more than presents.

• Schedule a fun family meeting and discuss how you want your holiday to be this year.

• This is a wonderful time to explore traditions you’d like to keep, and ones you’re ready to let go of. The time you free up will make room for new traditions or time to relax and be together.

• Determine the number of presents for each child that fits your budget and gift-giving desire. Then have a conversation with the extended family letting your wishes be known. Although you might desire fewer gifts for your children, relatives still may like showering them with presents. Acknowledge their feelings, but be clear about your request to decrease the number of gifts.

• An experience gift is truly a gift that keeps on giving. Your children will remember experiences long after they’ve left the toy behind.

• Gifts that allow a child to experience or master a new skill are loved by kids. Perhaps they want to learn to play the drums or ride a horse!

Begin setting your holiday wish list by creating conversations about the meaning of the holiday season. Talk with your family about the importance of giving and receiving. This is the perfect time to engage your kids in brainstorming sessions about ways that they can help create joy for others who are less fortunate during the holiday season.

Yes, it is possible to not let gift-giving get out-of-control…and the possibility begins with you.

Wishing you a meaningful and peace-filled holiday season!

For more than 30 years, Bonnie Compton, APRN, BC, CPNP, has dedicated her professional life to supporting families. A child and adolescent therapist, parent coach, and pediatric nurse practitioner, Bonnie’s on a mission to make a difference in the lives of children by providing parents with empowering tools so they can parent mindfully and raise healthy, happy families. For more information, visit her website at

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