A Simple Holiday: Fewer Toys and More Time
An interview with Kim John Payne
My kids are grilling me on what they’re going to get for the holidays and it’s driving me batty. I want to provide long-lasting gifts that will engage them for months — not hours. I want to give them fewer, so they really value what they receive, instead of getting greedy for mounds of junk robbing them of gratitude and me of cash. Can you tell I’ve been reading the Little House on the Prairie series? Those girls were stoked with a few bits of peppermint candy! Kim John Payne, Master of the simple life, helps guide parents on how to reframe gift-giving for us and our kids, making for a calmer, more meaningful holiday season. — Laurel Moglen, Managing Web Editor, TMC
If parents want to give fewer gifts, and more time during the holidays, what should they be doing right now to prepare their kids?
Dial down expectations. Politicians do this all the time, so that when something good happens, it’s not good, it’s great.
Starting now, have a talk with your kids emphasizing this holiday season is going to be simpler. You can say, “Sweetheart, we’re gonna have a simple holiday season this year. We’ll get you a few gifts, but not a ton. We’re just gonna have a lot of fun. We’ve got some board games coming up, and places to visit, and people to see.” Dial down expectations of material goods, and dial up expectations of connection and adventure.
An idea for parents is to create a gift-making corner. Put a bunch of found items (pinecones, empty toilet paper roles, tin foil, etc.) and allow the kids to make gifts for you or anyone else. This teaches them the value of time, creativity, and human connection.
Anything parents should avoid?
Minimize television watching, because now is the time advertisers are ramping up spending budgets using pester/power to influence us, and our kids. A study was done about this. When a child makes a request for a toy based on a TV ad, and they see this ad multiple times, a parent has to say “no” thirty times to hit the message home to their children. Parents get weighed-down and then cave before that thirtieth no. If children make a request, not driven by media exposure, a parent need say “no” 3-5 times. Limit advertising exposure.
How can parents buck societal pressure to provide tons of gifts for their kids during the holidays or any day?
The reality is the more we parents give, the more our kids want. This dynamic plays on the same brain centers as addictive tendencies. We all have addictive tendencies – wanting more and more. It all results in the increasing choice to replace connection with external stimulation. When purchasing leads to perceived happiness, or so-called satisfaction – we wake up the dragon of addiction in our children – which can spiral into other kinds of addictions.
If we understand the negative consequences of what giving copious gifts can do to children, perhaps this can help parents not load their kids up with everything they want – and everything they see their friends getting.
Why do parents feel pressure to “keep-up” with what other parents are doing for the kids around the holidays?
It’s a basic human instinct to not be left out. It’s a survival mechanism. But the truth is, there’s not one “in.” This is where free will and choice come into play – and it can be tough because of all the environmental and internal pressures that influence us. Marketers push the temporary and “one and only in”; we get sucked into that notion and buy. But, parents need to focus on the enduring in, which has to do with relationships and time. Parents can think about the close friends in their life. Those friendships are built from the enduring “in.” The friends we have now are not based on materialism; they are based on love and shared experiences. Parents can benefit from looking at their own lives to learn what has enduring meaning for them.
In your ideal holiday world, how should gift giving, and receiving, be handled?
- Gifts should be given one at a time. Each one should be enjoyed, and tried-on or examined for everyone to appreciate.
- One small family gift is nice.
- One gift to the extended family – not one gift per person.
- If Grandma and Grandpa want to do the toy tsunami scene, tell them now, we’re focusing on family connection this Christmas. You can say, “You raised me to be an adult and to live with my values, and so I am. My wish for a simple holiday is one of my deeply held values (and then with a smile)… So it is your fault!”
- If you want to record the experience, get a clip or a few photos and then let it go. Enjoy the togetherness.
- Unplug for the day. This is a gift to your kids. In fact, between X-mas and New Year, attempt to have complete digital-free time.
Kim John Payne is the author of Simplicity Parenting (Ballentine Books, 2009), and co-authoring Beyond Winning™ Smart Parenting in a Toxic Sports Environment, (Lyons Press 2013). He’s currently working on The Soul of Discipline, to be published by Ballantine Books in fall 2014 and The Compassionate Response, to be published by Shambhala Books in 2015. He is the founder and director of the Center for Social Sustainability and has worked for 27 years as counselor and educator helping children and parents. He has been featured in Time magazine, the BBC, NBC, ABC FOX, and is a regular guest on NPR.
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