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How to talk about: The Christmas list

Parenting Place Christmas List

All I want for Christmas is you...

That’s all very well for Mariah Carey, as that hit alone has made her over $60 million in royalties – a sweet little nest egg that grows significantly every festive season. Kids, materially speaking at least, tend to want for a bit more.

As malls across the country drag the decorations out of storage and Santa makes himself all too available for consultations, our kids start formulating their lists ... and it helps to be prepared.

Giving our kids gifts can be delightful. It can also be expensive and even fraught with disappointment. A few good chats in the lead up can really help.

Where to start

Unlike some trickier topics (hello sex, porn and technology), this conversation is pretty easy to get started. Your kids will be bursting at the seams to talk about Christmas shopping. And I know it feels like it gets earlier and earlier each year, but plenty of build-up does have its advantages – with a bit of advance dialogue, you hopefully won’t have to negotiate your way out of buying a pony on the 24th of December.

Short-term benefits include a more joy-filled Christmas Day. Long-term benefits include greater well-being.

Talking to our kids about their expectations around presents – realistic or otherwise – is good for everyone. Short-term benefits include a more joy-filled Christmas Day. Long-term benefits include greater well-being – excessive consumption is proven to be bad for our health!

Okay, let’s get practical. Taking big ideological concepts and reformatting them as kid-friendly conversations is one of the great challenges of parenting. You could start with the difference between needs and wants – needs are the essentials for a healthy life, wants are the lovely extras that are nice to have. You could quiz your kids on what’s a ‘need’ and what’s a ‘want’.

  • Fruit and vegetables? Need.
  • Chocolate ice cream? Want.
  • Sugar-free 100% plant-based sorbet? Grey area.

It’s also helpful to talk about gratitude – not in the ‘You should be grateful you get anything at all’ sense, but with a gentler ‘How fortunate are we to have all these good things’ vibe.

You might want to steer the chat towards consideration of those who don’t have enough, especially at Christmas, and perhaps ask your kids what ideas they have for how your family could help others.

This is really a conversation about perspective and guiding our kids to live gratefully in a culture of consumerism that relentlessly tells them they need more. Kids are deep thinkers. The following questions could set some powerful ideas in motion.

  • What do we really need to make Christmas awesome?

  • What are some different things we can do with our money?

  • What are your favourite Christmas memories from previous years?

  • What do we really need to make Christmas awesome?

  • What can we give that could make a difference in someone's life?

  • How does it affect the planet when we buy stuff? What might eco-friendly shopping look like?

  • What can we give away that we no longer need (and someone else would actually appreciate), before we get a whole bunch of new stuff?

  • And, come to think of it, do we really need a bunch of new stuff or would we be better off living with less?

Money talks

Putting a plan in place for Christmas shopping and establishing some boundaries or limits is a really good idea. This will look different from family to family. It's been another tough year and many families will be feeling the impact financially. Without causing your kids anxiety, have an age-appropriate conversation about how much money is available for Christmas presents this year, and talk about ways to spread the budget across all the holiday spending – the needs and the wants! Again, ask your kids for their ideas here.

Strategic shopping

I used to spend way too much time wondering if I’d shopped fairly and would our three daughters have equal piles of presents come Christmas Day? That, and the reality that they really didn’t need piles of presents at all, led us to adopt the following strategy (a brilliant idea I found on the internet somewhere and can take no credit for). There’ll be presents from relatives and a stocking stuffed with little treats (and ‘exciting’ consumables like sunscreen and a new toothbrush), but from us parents – each child only gets four things:

  1. Something you want
  2. Something you need
  3. Something to wear
  4. Something to read

A simple plan and fairly self-explanatory, but I can’t stress enough how much easier this has made Christmas shopping. And it’s been a great conversation starter too. We’ve done it since the kids were quite little and they’ve really appreciated it. I think the limit of four things has helped them navigate the overwhelming temptation of Christmas marketing, and made them think carefully about what it is they really want. Which in turns helps them appreciate their gifts and value their possessions.

The limit of four things has helped them navigate the overwhelming temptation of Christmas marketing.

Conscious consumption is important on many levels. Is it beyond our kids? No, I don’t think so. My kids have been invited to birthday parties recently where the invite clearly stated ‘No presents please’. One child asked instead for donations to save the turtles. One asked for just a homemade card. And no, we don’t live in Utopia. Rather these parents had guided their kids to think about things from a fresh perspective. Quite possibly these great ideas started with a simple conversation... “All I want for Christmas is…”

Ellie Gwilliam

Ellie Gwilliam

Ellie Gwilliam is a passionate communicator, especially on topics relating to families. After 20 years in Auckland working mainly in publishing, Ellie now lives in Northland, with her husband and their three daughters, where she works from home as content editor for Parenting Place. Ellie writes with hope and humour, inspired by the goal of encouraging parents everywhere in the vital work they are doing raising our precious tamariki.

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