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Making the Holidays Less Materialistic

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"The gimmes" are all around us during the holiday season. It can be hard for kids — and parents — to look beyond all of the product-driven hoopla and remember what the holidays are really about.

It's not the gifts but what's behind them that's important — the spirit of giving. Help your kids learn the fun of giving, and how rewarding it can be to look for, make, and wrap something special — or do something special — for people they care about and others who are in need.

Here are five ways to curb materialism in your kids and reinforce the real reason for the season:

1. Teach Kids to Question Marketing Messages

From the TV commercials during cartoons to the promos on the backs of cereal boxes, marketing messages target kids of all ages. And to them, everything looks ideal, like something they simply have to have. It all sounds so appealing — often, so much better than it really is.

The ads kids see around the holidays can help foster unrealistic expectations and lead to disappointment. After imagining their "wish list" items all around them, it's hard for reality to measure up when they actually open their gifts.

Of course, it's nearly impossible to eliminate all exposure to marketing messages. You can certainly turn off the TV or at least limit your kids' watching time, but they'll still see and hear ads for the latest gizmos and must-haves.

Explain, when your kids ask for products they see advertised, that commercials and other ads are designed to make people want things they don't necessarily need. And these ads are often meant to make us think that these products will make us happier somehow. Talking to kids about what things are like in reality can help put things into perspective.

Teach your kids that not everything they want can always be theirs and that a little "want" here and there isn't all bad. The key is to want things in moderation and to fully appreciate what you're given. Emphasize that the holidays are a special time, when a lot of love and thought is put into gift giving.

2. Focus on Family Traditions

Traditions that focus on family or friends can be a great way to put meaning back into the holidays. Here are a couple of ideas:

3. Teach Kids to Give of Themselves

Volunteerism, especially around the holidays, offers an ideal opportunity for families to have fun and feel closer to each other at the same time. Community service helps to drive home the message that giving is much more than laying down cash for the hot gift of the season or scrambling around to buy mounds of presents.

Volunteerism can show kids that giving your time, effort, and kindness is more rewarding than just expecting to receive lots of presents.

Also, if volunteering begins at an early age, it can become part of your kids' lives — something they just want to do. It can teach them:

Choose to help an organization or group that fits with your family's values and the things you believe in. Just a few ways you can help out in your community and beyond:

Community service can teach kids that giving comes in many forms, not just as presents. Emphasize that giving of their time, effort, and caring can mean so much more — and last longer — than any gift that money can buy.

4. Give Gifts With Meaning

Of course, gift giving will always be a large part of the holiday season. And with good reason — it can teach kids to really consider what might make others happy and what's important to people they care about. Watching loved ones' faces as they open presents that your children put a lot of heart and thought into can make the holidays more worthwhile for your kids.

But presents don't always have to be purchased in a store. Teach your kids how to put some real meaning and feelings into their gifts this year and beyond. Making their own presents can help show just how much kids care and can make the experience of giving more rewarding for both kids and their gift recipients.

Here are some ideas to get your family started:

Be a Good Holiday Role Model

Show your kids that the holidays can be joyous and fulfilling, not just a stress-ridden time that revolves around marathon shopping trips. Emphasize early on that it's not about tons of presents, but giving and receiving a few heartfelt gifts.

By starting early with traditions that emphasize the true meaning of the holidays and the caring thoughts behind gift giving, you can help to mold your kids' perspectives on the holiday season and what it means to both give and receive all year long.

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: December 2013

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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