Ask Our Experts: How can parents instill the true spirit of the holidays?

For this month’s Ask Our Experts series, we turned to parenting and childcare expert Tammy Gold, LCSW, author of SECRETS OF THE NANNY WHISPERER, to answer some questions about how parents can instill in their children the true spirit of the holidays. Have a question or suggested tips of your own? Post in the comments below!

What Happens When Kids Get Too Many Toys?

There are some deleterious effects to holiday toy overload. Some studies have shown that too many gifts can negatively impact a child’s learning capacity because it decreases the child’s concentration. Other studies have concluded that the repetition of giving too many toys can change a chemical process in the brain causing it to need more stimulation. The child receives a rush of stimulation when presented with a multitude of gifts and each time this occurs, the brain gets over-stimulated and then needs that stimulation again and again.

Sometimes, the more a child gets, the less they grow to appreciate what they’ve been given. Children who are presented with too many gifts can be desensitized to the appreciation and uniqueness of objects and, at times, people.

How Can Parents Balance the Toy Overload?

Parents can still give their children gifts. However, by giving less at a time–the experience becomes more special for the child. Parents can also promote a larger, more educational gift giving process. For example, if a child requests a guitar for a present, one of the gifts can be a book about the guitar, another gift can be a trip to research different guitar stores, another can be a movie or show about guitars, another could be a journal where the child could write about the experience of the new guitar, and the last gift could be the guitar. By getting one larger gift and other supporting gifts, the child will learn more and become more engaged with the gifts, while the parents highlight the special quality of the larger gift.

Parents can also lessen the toy overload by speaking with friends and family members about their family’s “holiday gift rules.” For example, after 10 gifts you can request donations to a charity that the child chooses. Parents can also make—yes, make—presents for their children, demonstrating the importance of making something from nothing and giving something with meaning, whether it’s a homemade picture frame or a “hand-knit sweater.

How Can Parents Instill the True Meaning of Holiday Giving?

It is important to remember that every child and family is different. Regardless of these differences, however, the one notion parents should emphasize above all others is the importance of being with family and friends—i.e., every day of being together as a family or going to the park is a type of “gift.”

If buying toys is important to your child, do not take that away. Instead, discover your child’s interests and hobbies and try to make the gift special and unique. It is also helpful to purchase more complex toys that will engage a child for a longer period of time. Parents can also ask their child, “What are some ways we can give to others during this time?” Teaching a child how to give, not just how to receive, on the holiday is one of the greatest gifts you can give to your children. Studies show that children and adults are much happier when they engage in acts of kindness and compassion to others. These lessons of giving are very memorable for the holiday season and last a lifetime.

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