If you are reducing the number of gifts under the tree this Christmas, you are not alone. Many families, either out of necessity or choice, are scaling back. Increased living costs and rising interest rates have us all thinking twice about where we put our dollar – and rightly so. In this blog I’d like to explore four tips to help your tweens and teens embrace a simpler, fuss-free Christmas experience. The overall aim – for them to understand that your love, and their happiness, are not confined to the number of gifts they receive.
Tip 1: Understand Extravagance is Overrated
Let me explain why a connected Christmas can be even happier than an extravagant one. Opening an extravagant present on Christmas day gives our kids a massive hit of Dopamine, a chemical that makes us feel really good. The right amount of Dopamine is important in kid’s lives, but we have to understand how this tricky chemical works. Dopamine only lasts for a very short amount of time, and too much of it can leave kids feeling unsettled, ungrateful and desperately wanting more. We have all known Christmases where our kids have had it “all” and felt unsettled. I call it the “grumpy after glow”.
A longer lasting sense of happiness is found in meaningful connection. Being physically and emotionally close supports the release of Oxytocin and Serotonin, both longer lasting positive neuro chemicals. These things matter – hugging, hair brushing, sitting close while watching a movie, sharing stories, a gender-less hang out time, deliberate words of affirmation and sharing in a common interest. The even better news is that our kids don’t have to understand the power of these chemicals for them to do their job. They just have to be on the receiving end of our bids for connection.
Tip 2: Explore Gift Giving
While our kids may not fully realise it, thoughtful gifts don’t always cost money. Often times the ones that are heart felt mean the most. This year we have a great opportunity to widen our kid’s experience of gift giving. You might ask them, what can I give you that doesn’t cost money? Each child is going to be different, so be open to some wild ideas. Here’s a few basic ideas to help you get started – Plan some tailor-made one-on-one dates, spend time teaching them a new skill, help them organise a sleepover or party, read a book together (chapter by chapter), start a shared journal or organise a game of midnight laser tag.
You might also pose the question in relation to the gifts they give others, including their siblings and grandparents. What can you give, that doesn’t cost a cent (or maybe only a few cents)? Here are some ideas to help you get started – a thoughtful note, a photo reel of the moments you have spent together, a plant grown from seeds, a batch of cupcakes, chores request cards, a treasure hunt or breakfast in bed.
Tip 3: Communicate Financial Reality Well
We can’t shelter kids from the reality that economic times are shifting. However, how we communicate this really matters. Try to emphasise, “This is my responsibility, not yours. It’s my job to take care of you.” And this is an important add on, “Part of taking care of you is managing our budget.” This places the responsibility on your shoulders, while giving them a sense that your decisions are for their highest good.
Tip 4: Work With Comparisons
Our tweens and teens will typically compare themselves to others – so normal! I’d suggest never blaming or shaming kids for wanting the “stuff” their friends have. It’s really hard to be a tween or teen in this commercial world we live in! One thing I have always found works is saying, “I can’t do (or buy) THAT, but I what can we do (or buy) that is within our budget” or “How could we work towards doing or buying THAT.” These words won’t take the disappointment away, but they send a caring message that focusses on solutions.