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Creating Meaningful Holidays

During the holidays, parents may find themselves spending more money than they like on gifts for friends and family, especially their children. Then families spend several stressful months paying off credit cards. The season serves as a good opportunity to express love in a multitude of ways, in addition to traditional gift giving.

Great expectations
The holidays often evoke emotions ranging from anxiety and depression to excitement and anticipation, especially with gift giving. Parents may feel guilty if they are unable to give a child all the gifts he or she wants. Some suggestions for toning down the child’s great expectations include:

• Make a list.

• Set a spending limit and stick to it.

• Find out what the child wants, and re-emphasize that he or she may not be able to get every item he or she desires.

“The holidays serve as a great opportunity to involve everyone in a conversation about how we can make our holiday meaningful as a family,” says Diane Dennis, L.C.S.W., Department of Psychiatry, University of Kentucky. “Everyone will have their own ideas.”

Know your limits
When the child has conquered verbal communication, he or she might like to practice verbal ingenuity by asking for every item seen on the television or in a store. Parents should set limits for themselves and remember what their goal is when giving gifts to their child.

“What is the message we want to send our children during the holidays?” Dennis asks. “While gift giving is certainly part of the holidays, it’s not the only way to say ‘I love you, you are special to me.’ Everything we do as an adult sends a message to children. These messages can become part of the child’s belief system over time. So if the message we want to convey is ‘I love you, you are special,’ then we want to find as many ways as possible to do that, including gift giving.”

Dennis suggests that overspending parents ask themselves:

• Am I buying out of guilt?

• Am I trying to outdo the divorced parent?

• Were my own childhood experiences disappointing and am I trying to compensate for my own childhood?

“It is so difficult for a parent to see disappointment in a child’s eyes,” says Dennis.

This often creates the overspending.

“Parents want their children to know how important they are to them—how important they are to the family,” says Dennis.

An abundance of love
The holidays serve as a wonderful time to teach children about love, gratitude, sharing, and serving, as a family.

“Start very young and it becomes a part of a child’s life,” says Dennis. “Generosity comes from a sense of abundance, which we need more of in our culture. Giving to those who are less fortunate tends to create more generosity. Children love to give and receive.”

Children treasure family time during the holidays. Traditions and rituals, such as baking, attending religious services, and buying gifts for the “angel tree,” create connections within the family.

“Family rituals are some of our fondest memories,” says Dennis. “They are meant to be shared with the next generation. Rituals link us to family members who are no longer here, but whose spirit lives on in the traditions.”

The gift of time
When Dennis asks an adult what made him or her feel special growing up, the answer is never a gift that was purchased. The answer is always about time spent as a family or with a special person; for example, baking cookies with Grandma, a parent reading a holiday story, or singing Christmas carols.

“What we remember is the time that was spent with us,” says Dennis. “Time is the gift.”

The holidays should be fun—a time for slowing down, spending more time together, and being loved. Dennis says by spending valuable time with your children during the holidays, you will not only reconnect but also make memories to be cherished in years to come. Purchased gift giving may not seem so important.

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