Now that Black Friday shopping hours have become pre-Black Friday beginning before Thanksgiving, many parents are swayed by the lure of these deals on purchases for their children’s Christmas toys.
But cheap shouldn’t be the highest priority when selecting holiday gifts for your children.
Perhaps some of you who are feeling overwhelmed, are envying the parents of old who stuck an orange and a red and white striped peppermint candy in the bottom of each Christmas stocking, and then gave each child one simple gift that Pa made out of wood. Reading Little House on the Prairie to your children may help put things into perspective for children and parents alike as Christmas approaches.
It’s always shocking to see how thrilled Laura and Mary Ingalls (“Little House on the Prairie”) were with their orange, handmade rag dolls and mittens, when we compare their experience with the wants and inexhaustible desires of children today. Parents have an added responsibility in helping to shape the attitudes, expectations and gratitude of their children in this season of giving.
Here are some thoughts that may guide your selections as you consider how to narrow down the vast possibilities.
Acknowledge a child’s wishes — Experts agree that a child should receive at least one of the expressed desires from their wish list (when age appropriate and financially possible). Psychologically, this tells a child his ideas are heard and valued by parents.
The latest and greatest — Every season comes with the trendy toy that everyone has to have. Children are especially taken by what friends are talking about and what retailers are pushing, even though it may not fit your child’s needs or your family values. Stick to your guns about what you want your children exposed to, no matter how popular it is.
Ages and stages — Children move from year to year through myriad interests, skills and abilities. Gifts should reflect what a child’s current interest is, and encourage their newest physical capabilities. A toddler’s wooden horse with wheels, morphs into a tricycle, then next year into a bicycle with training wheels, and finally a big boy bike, mastered with an adult’s help.
Encourage creativity — A box of colorful blocks may not have the same wow factor as a glitzy plastic toy with a million moving parts, but if Dad gets down on the floor and shows his children how to build a castle for the princess or a ship for the pirates, he has opened up a world of creative play. (I still have the wooden blocks my dad made for my brother and me as children before “Black Fridays” existed — and they are so priceless!)
Teach and challenge while playing — There are great toys available that have both educational value and encourage children to keep trying instead of giving up, or prevent boredom with toys that do everything for you.
Board games — A universal symbol of family togetherness, games teach a child how to be competitive, at the same time offering practice in how to be a good winner or loser. Play in front of the fire with hot chocolate – the best gift is family closeness.
Time is of the essence — My grandson, Everett, asked me at Thanksgiving if I would take him to the pier, the skateboard park and the Merry-Go-Round. Having done this trio-activity together a couple of times, this has become a little tradition for us when I visit him in Santa Barbara. What a great Christmas gift. Children crave time with their parents and grandparents, and gifts of time from adults in children’s lives is valued more than we can imagine.
Book it! — Every child should receive a flat, rectangular package under the Christmas tree. Not always the most exciting gift of the day, yet a carefully chosen book becomes a lasting addition to a child’s library, opens new worlds of learning and intrigue, appeals to the child’s latest interests, and insures time with a loving adult who will sit close at the end of Christmas day, and read aloud to a child. A good book has it all.
Put careful thought into the gifts you select for your children this Christmas. Many parents are choosing to buy less, discovering that their children value gifts more when there isn’t an endless supply. Encourage generous grandparents and relatives to follow your lead.
Remember that your gift to your child tells them that you understand who they are, what they’re interested in and what will bring them joy, but also has the potential for leaving lasting memories. Don’t forget that your parental love and security, provided in many ways besides gift-giving, are the greatest gifts of all.
Jan Roberts, an educator, accomplished speaker and author, provides individual parent consultation. She has been an instructor for the Parent Education program at La Cañada Presbyterian Church for 26 years. Her column appears every other week. Readers may send parent questions to TheParentCoach@