- By Hanna Nee
Every year I say the same thing, “I’m not going to go crazy, I’m going to keep it simple. After all, the holiday isn’t about presents, it’s about being together, celebrating our spiritual tradition, and practicing love, generosity, mercy, and gratitude.” And every year I do it…I over do it, that is. I blame the fact that both my daughter’s love language and mine is gifts. I LOVE giving gifts. I love picking them out, wrapping them, watching her open them. So when people talk about non-toy/non-traditional gifts, I may agree in theory, but resist in practice. I mean, sure, my daughter doesn’t really need another Lego set, and donating to the animal shelter in her name is a really great thing to do, but what can I wrap?!
I think we all want to shower our kids with gifts as a way of showing love, and maybe, just a little bit, to meet social expectations. But what we can end up doing is showing them that love and approval can be measured by the volume of gifts around the tree, and in so doing, instill the seeds of a “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality. And, if you’re a parent or caregiver of a child from a hard place (e.g. history of trauma, adoption, divorce, etc), your child is at greater risk of attachment issues that can be compounded by a focus on things rather than relationships. Some children who have experienced inconsistent, absent, or frightening caregivers in their past learn to attach to material things rather than people, and a focus on material things representing love can inadvertently encourage this maladaptive attachment pattern. I think we can all agree that that is NOT the goal! In an effort to counter-act this outcome, I’ve put together a list of gifts that are at their core relational and bonding, but with all the trappings of a traditional gift.
So with no further ado, and in no particular order:
If you are a story loving family, give your child(ren) the gift of a read aloud tradition. My father read to my siblings and me at least once a week from classics like Tom Sawyer, Swiss Family Robinson, and Treasure Island. I can still remember the feelings of closeness, belonging, and family identity that tradition instilled in me. Choose a story that fits you child’s interests and developmental level and include a promise to start a daily/weekly/monthly read aloud tradition with them. Don’t forget to do the voices!
Games are such a fantastic way to bond as a family and there are games to fit
practically every developmental level and interest. Nothing builds connection and
trust quicker than laughing and having fun together. Some of my family’s favorites in
- Classes you can take together
Whether your family is into physical play and exercise, or crafting and arts, (or all of
the above) there are tons of local classes going on in the community around you. Try
martial arts, photography, pottery, coding, quilting, a new language, dance, guitar, or
Check out what’s going on in your area and then get out of the house together and
see a play, symphony, concert, or movie.
- Subscription Boxes
What’s better than someone else pre-gathering everything you need for craft time?
Subscription boxes haven’t gotten very popular and it’s not surprising. Pre-curated
boxes of projects that free you up to spend less time planning, gathering, and
- Bespoke coupon book
A classic option, but take it up a notch and let one of these companies make your
personalized “coupon” book look polished and professional. Make sure its chock
full of offerings of quality time together.
- Gift Cards
Choose a restaurant or two your child(ren) like to go to – Starbucks, Chick-fil-a,
Chipotle, Yogurt Land – and include a few dates on the calendar to use them
together for a special date.
Passes are a great option if you’re fortunate to live close to museums, a science
center, state parks, or theme parks.
- Stationary Set with Promise of Mail
Everybody loves to get mail, especially kids! Give them a unique stationary set and
fun writing pens or pencils and create a schedule that works for you (weekly, bi-
weekly, monthly) to send letters or postcards to each other.
- Recipe Box with Recipes/Kitchen Tools
Put together a collection of your child’s favorite dishes and desserts, and along with
a few special kitchen tools just for him or her (and maybe matching personalized
aprons and chefs’ hats), you and your co-chef can act out your own version of
Master Chef Junior or The Great British Baking Show and create beautiful and
delicious creations to share as a family. Don’t forget to include your promise of
(weekly, bi-weekly, monthly) cooking/baking with the gift.
- Tool Box with Tools
Maybe you and your kids would rather be in the garage than the kitchen. Put
together a special collection of tools with a planned project to work on – build a dog
house, tree house, shelves for their books, or anything tailored to their interests, be it
mechanical, carpentry, robotics, whatever!
- Fishing Gear/Camping Gear (w/ planned trips)
The absolute most connecting and bonding times of my life were during yearly
camping trips I went on with my family and church. It felt so special to have my own
gear and I still remember getting my first pocket knife in my stocking for Christmas
when I was 10 years old – Best Christmas Ever!
I hope this list has given you some helpful ideas that will work for your family. When you begin to substitute these kinds of gifts into the holiday gifting routine, you may not have as many toys to sell in the yearly garage sale purge, but you will have greater family connection, improved attunement, and the much welcome side-effect of more empathetic, cooperative children. This year, give the gift of connection.
2 Final Tips:
1) It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, commitment to following through on the connecting portion is key. Make these connecting moments a priority – put them on the calendar, write them on the bathroom mirror, tattoo them on your forehead… or just set a reminder on your phone, but make it happen!
2) Don’t ever make connection time a consequence – the last message we want to send to
our kids is that they can do something that makes them unacceptable as a person. As a parent, you are their example of healthy love (no pressure or anything) – if Wednesday night is “family game night” then family game night happens whether your little one has been naughty or nice that day. Take away their iPod, but keep game night. This helps your kids learn that your love and acceptance can be trusted and relied on, no matter what!