Why I Refuse to Spoil My Kid at Christmas


For parents who celebrate Christmas, December 1 means the pressure is on. We have to find the coolest, hottest toys for our kids, and we have to find enough of them to cover not just our own asses, but also Santa's. Watching the shopping rush going on around you, it's easy to feel like if you aren't spoiling your kids, you're doing it wrong. But you know what? Screw that.

  • Two years ago, I decide to adopt a new gift giving strategy for my family, and we've never looked back.

    The idea came after watching my 4-year-old daughter tear through so many gifts on Christmas morning that she ultimately got bored about halfway through and didn't want to open anymore. My sweet, excited preschooler suddenly had the cold, dead eyes of a Christmas zombie, and I thought, "What the hell are we doing to this kid?"

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    Of course, it wasn't just me and my husband contributing to The Great Spoiling of our spawn. Some gifts were from her grandparents, a few were from aunts, some were from family friends. But, regardless of the love each of those people packaged into a present for my child, it was simply too much. So when I saw friends on social media talking about adopting a new four-gift strategy -- something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read -- I decided to jump on the bandwagon.

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  • Millennial parents likely didn't invent the four-gift plan but it seems to have taken off since we started having kids.

    A quick Google search of the term nets over seven million results, and most of them are posts on parenting blogs or personal finance websites from the past five years. Some expand on the four-gift plan, bringing it to six and adding something to make and something to eat. In my house, we stick to the four-gift rule but include two bonus gifts from Santa, and we encourage limited Christmas lists so grandparents and other extended family don't go wild.

    It makes sense that millennials would see fit to downsize during the holidays. After all, we are the generation known for "killing" everything from diamonds to casual chain restaurants with our fiercely frugal ways. But it's not just frugality that motivated me to change the way we do Christmas presents.

  • My real desire was to make the holidays more about togetherness and gratitude than about gifts. Also, I don't want my daughter to turn out like this:

    And, it turns out, limiting how many toys and fun things your kids own actually has some important benefits for them in the long run. A study that was just published in the journal Infant Behavior and Development notes kids who have a ton of toys actually suffer from "reduced quality of play".

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    To conduct the study, researchers provided a group of 36 toddlers with two different play environments: one loaded with sixteen awesome toys, and another that only had four. What they found is that toddlers in the room with fewer toys were more focused on what they were playing with and were forced to play more creatively. In the longterm, this could lead to kids developing a stronger imagination and more appreciation for their things (cue the applause from every parent who is sick and tired of yelling, "You need to take care of your stuff!").

  • The other benefit to buying fewer gifts is that you spend less money on junk, and you create less waste.

    The average American planned to spend about $929 on holiday gifts last year. And, as parents, we know how many of those gifts were never ever used or played with. How many times have you bought your kid some elaborate play kitchen or Power Wheels, only to have them spend the rest of the morning playing with the cardboard box it came in? I have piles of junk in my house from grandparents, friends, birthday parties, and Christmas that no one is ever going to use. And, sure, we can donate it to families in need, and we do. But we could still be charitable without having a constant flow of excess stuff that no one in our house truly wants or needs.

    Obviously, every family is going to do what works for them. Some might think I'm the Grinch incarnate for limiting how many presents my precious angels get each year. Some parents probably want to throw down with a million gifts just because they can, and more power to them. But, for moms and dads who don't want to break the bank for Christmas -- or simply can't afford to -- there's nothing wrong with trying a different approach. The best part of holiday traditions is that you get to make your own rules. And, who knows? Maybe fewer gifts under the tree will help your kid find new ways to love the things they already have.