One thing that’s as familiar to the holiday season as Christmas carols and cold weather is the overwhelming crush of advertising.   Ads for everything from clothes to jewelry to toys to cars confront us every time we turn our TV, open the newspaper or go online.

As parents, the holidays are a challenging time as we want our children to enjoy the holidays without giving in to the materialism of the season.    Research shows that in the case of “stuff” less is often more—as the more materialistic children are, the less happy they are.

Reducing materialism during the holidays may be something that agrees with you, but it can be difficult to put that into practice.   Here are some things for you to consider:          

Shifting the Focus:

  • Model the values you want your kids to see.  If they see you shopping to cure boredom or a bad mood, then they are more likely to want to do the same.
  • Shift away from things to experiencesInstead of buying a roomful of presents–many of which will be quickly put aside and forgotten–organize some experiences that will create memories.  You could do a family outing to a show, a museum or event.
  • Create traditions. Looking back on your own childhood, do you remember the stuff you got or time spent with family playing games, going sledding, baking cookies?  Kids benefit from time with their parents and the holidays offer lots of opportunities to connect.

 You may like the idea, but are your kids and the other relatives on board?

 Lowering Expectations:

  • Young kids don’t have expectations about the number of gifts they should receive, so it’s easier to do what feels comfortable.
  • Older kids who are used to receiving a lot of presents may require a discussion if you plan to scale back on the number of presents that they receive.   You can frame the discussion in terms of economic reality (“We are buying fewer gifts this year because we need to stay within our budget.”) or values (“We are going to give fewer presents this year because we want the focus to be on the meaning of the holiday and spending time with family.”).   You can also use this as an opportunity to have your children prioritize (“Think about what you really want and we’ll see what we can do.”
  • Grandparents and other relatives need to be informed of the shift as well.  If you are trying to cut back so that your kids aren’t overwhelmed with stuff, but don’t tell the other people that buy presents for your kids, you may not see the results you want.   Let these people know what you are doing and what you would like from them.  “We appreciate your generosity.  This year we are trying to do fewer toys/clothes/gadgets, so we would like you to pick one special item and then consider giving an experience, such as a museum membership.”

Consider your hopes for what your kids will remember about the holidays when they look back and then give them what they want most: happy memories!