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A Simple Holiday: Fewer Toys and More Time

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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?

Parents need to ask themselves if they want to raise their kids in a spirit of gratitude or entitlement.

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.

Please share any thoughts or questions you might have below in the comments section.  We love hearing from you!

The Mother Company aims to support parents and their children, providing thought-provoking web content and products based in social and emotional learning for children ages 3-6. Check out episodes of our “Ruby’s Studio” children’s video series,  along with our beautiful children’s booksappsmusichandmade dolls, and more.

Posted in: Emotions, Expert Advice, Family, Holidays, Mindfulness, Modern Parenting

Comments (3)

  1. Juliana James

    Love the message here, I love Simplicity Parenting, I missed the first 10 months of my grandson’s life, (from four months to l4 months old and when I got here, the toy tsunami hit and I felt I need to “catch up” for lost time, now that phase is over and most of all I want to buy books for Jacob and leave the rest to mom and dad, unless they ask me to purchase something else….truly, the time you spend with a grandchild or child is more precious than any material thing, the time to sing, read, dance, walk, observe, go outside, invent a game with things in the house, go for rides in the laundry basket, and love that journey, each finding our own balance to take care of our life and help others is actually divine, so things are headed in that direction a direction of love of self, love of family, community, neighborhood and world. Thanks for the reminders to be whole.

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  2. Hayley Fletcher

    This is truly wonderful and completely supporting of our family values. In essence for us, the difference between contentment and discontentment in our lives is gratitude, graciousness, grace. My husband and I strive to teach our children this every day in the way we carry on in our lives and it is working for us…our children are truly grateful, knowing they are blessed little beings. This Christmas, we are enjoying a few days holiday together to enjoy precious time together. Time is the ultimate luxury and the one and only thing we strive to achieve more of in our lives, is more downtime together. There will be a couple of presents in their Santa sacks, things that they need, not no other gifts. Here is the letter we sent to our immediate family at the beginning of Christmas to notify them of our gratitude in life and our need for nothing more…Thank you

    Merry Christmas 2013!!!

    (Edited)
    …This Christmas, with us in your hearts, we ask that you give to your favourite charity on our behalf. It would be very meaningful for us if you did this, more meaningful than any material gift that you could send. We have everything we need; the children do not need any toys or clothes. JJ and I work hard to encourage them as they grow to show grace in all that they do and that for us as a family, the true meaning of Christmas is not about presents, but cherished downtime together, giving thanks for all that we have. If you do feel to send the children a gift, a beautiful book will mean the world to them…something they can keep and treasure forever. Please make sure you write something lovely in it, for them to look back upon in years to come…

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  3. Cynthia C

    Simplicity Parenting has thankfully always been a way of life for my two children and myself, a single parent. Consequently, the toddler, early childhood, and elementary years of parenting were a relatively easy, magical, and glorious time for us filled with pine cones and peppercorns, magical forays of all kinds, neighborhood adventures, wonderous books, few manufactured toys, living room stage productions, meaningful work, endless play, and loads of simple time together. I was not able to afford vacations away, or summer camps, or expensive gifts, so our family life was inherently simple.
    What is important to note is that during these “easy” years of childhood, peer pressure is kept at bay as the family remains the center of a child’s world. There are countless resources and opportunities for wholesome, inexpensive engagement and activity. And a parent is still the unquestionable, admired conductor of all things great and small. Such “golden years”!
    Now, with my daughter just off to college this year, and my son now thirteen, parenting is a whole new theatre of roles and stories; and is far from “easy”. Towering over the average teenager’s life now is an invasive world of social media and screen technology. And while our family has only one computer – housed in the kitchen, one small screen television, no gaming apparatuses, and ready access to bike paths, hiking trails, and waterways, I feel like I am still losing the battle to many societal pressures that engulf us.
    I would like to see more articles and resources offered for families: with adolescents; in one parent households; economically disadvantaged; dominated by urban realities and the tyranny of time; or working within a culture of curvy educational reform, glorified materialism, growing social isolation, self-focus, or superfluousness. Parents of teenagers face additional challenges as these realities meet with their child’s growing independence and pathway to adulthood.
    I love Simplicity Parenting’s artistic logo of the rolled up pant legs and dangling feet in the water. It works for me as an adult, reminding me of my simple, elegant, natural choicemaking. But my teenage/young adult children are facing an altogether different world than this image evokes. I look forward to seeing more issues tackling some of these mid-to-late childhood topics.

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