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Gift craze of Christmas – is it really inevitable?

In many families, the time before Christmas becomes a huge gift craze with children coming up with the most utopian wishes and parents willing to go out of their way to make these wishes come true, no matter what. How does one ensure that Christmas does not become a consumer party and the presents bring joy for longer than just the moment of opening the package?

Family therapist Kadri Järv-Mändoja has always explained gifts and the cult of things to her three sons and finds that this topic needs to be addressed constantly. “There are so many things around us, commercials keep on luring us into consuming, children want to be just like their friends – so there’s no wonder that they actually don’t even know if they need new stuff and what for. To find this out, parent’s advice is necessary,” Järv-Mändoja explains. She gives an example of her 9-year-old son who desperately wanted to get some tiny toys. Although the parents explained that he would probably not play with them and just wanted to have them, the boy still spent his birthday money on the desired toys. “And then it went exactly as we had told him – he found out that there was nothing to do with them and left the toys for his younger brother. That was a lesson on remembering to think if you really need it before each purchase.”

Better one big thing than a pile of unnecessary stuff

Of course, this is all much more complicated at Christmas time due to the pressures of society, family traditions, and maybe also parents’ guilt. How can I be so mean and not buy my child a present they want so badly? And this is how people sometimes spend their last euros or even borrow money to buy presents. But do we need to?

Järv-Mändoja claims that if a parent gets a sense of guilt for not being able to (completely) fulfil their child’s wishes, he/she should look take a look inside and think for a second why they even think that all wishes must come true. “It is highly possible that the roots of the cult of things go back several generations and the children have been showered with gifts in the family for decades at Christmas. I find that we can consume much less and in a more aware manner, even at Christmas,” she says. “You can agree inside the family that Santa will only bring one larger thing or that only children will receive presents. Making this kind of agreement and sticking with it may, naturally, be complicated and there may be several Christmases until the desired outcome is achieved. Yet, it does not hurt to aim towards the principle that Santa’s bag doesn’t have to burst with presents. It’s better to have one gift that the child truly desires than a pile of stuff that bring almost no joy at all. We as parents create a reality for our children and it may mean that there is no need for unnecessary stuff, even at Christmas.”

Exchanging letters with elves

The therapist has a great tip on how to make children think their Christmas wishes through a bit better. Naturally, her three sons (9, 6 and 4 years old) cannot wait for the elves to arrive and the tiny guys visit the boys every year. And not just visit, but exchange letters with the children. “The boys were already waiting for the elves in October and put out their slippers. But then the elf wrote back that it was a bit too early and he was still busy preparing the Christmas presents. Now they have written about their Christmas wishes and the elf has inquired about the reasons,” Järv-Mändoja says. “My experience has shown that the Christmas wish list should not be done in a hurry – it needs to be discussed among the family.”

“I want the same thing my friend has!”

Very many wishes, especially the ones of older children, arise from the need to be just like someone else or to get recognition, understanding, or respect from peers with their cool stuff. My friend has a hoverboard, I want one as well! It doesn’t matter that I live in the countryside with no paved roads and can’t even use it. Or maybe a friend got a new iPhone and I want it too. So what that my current phone is just six months old and works perfectly. It’s not an iPhone!

“In these cases, there’s nothing much to do other than guide your child. Otherwise they would throw their favourite stuff into a corner the moment a friend tells them that spinners are out, for instance. We need to explain that cool stuff doesn’t buy real friends and ask the child again what he wants to do with the thing he desires so much. Get to the point in the discussion in which he truly understands that a hoverboard is completely useless in a forest,” the therapist advises. “At the same time, a child’s wishes shouldn’t be dismissed straight away – they need to find reasons on their own.”

You might be surprised how clever your child is. For instance, a 7-year-old wanted a smartphone for Christmas instead of the old cell phone. And he had a great reason that also matched the views of his mother who’s against phone games: “I need a smartphone to take nice pictures. The old cell phone doesn’t have a camera, a smartphone does. We go to cool places so often and I want to take pictures and make videos!” So he got his smartphone and really does take a lot of pictures.

Does a gift need to be valuable?

It’s easy to get into conflict with your inner, guilt-feeling voice again. “It’s Christmas, how do I give my child something cheap? The more expensive the better!”

From a child’s point of view, there’s no difference. They normally don’t look at a price and don’t measure the value of a present based on this. It is important to get something they truly want. Joy is important, not a price tag,” the therapist reminds us. “But then again – here’s the place family attitudes come into play again. There are families where everything is measured in money. No wonder then that even small children do the same.”

Järv-Mändoja suggests giving experiences – maybe a theatre ticket or a nice trip somewhere. It could be seen as a gift and generally, children value the time spent with parents very much. For instance, 8-year-old Hanna has asked her mother for several years if she wants a festival pass to Viljandi Folk Music Festival. “I always look forward to it, it’s so nice to go there with mummy. We always see a lot of friends and listen to cool bands. And we can also make stuff, dance, and eat a lot of ice cream,” Hanna explains.

Some more suggestions to follow to avoid the gift craze:
• Don’t leave buying presents to the last minute. It’s better to have December free to enjoy Christmas time than to storm around in shops.
• Gifts that are bought just to “give something” should not be bought at all. The recipient rarely finds joy in them and it’s sad when the gift is not used or fails to create an emotion.
• When a child’s wish is unrealistic, be sure to ask what’s behind it – an actual need or seeking the approval, respect, etc. of others.
• Gifts to children need not be equal in price, but should be equal in the joy they bring. There is no point in giving twin sisters exactly the same books. The children may get a single more expensive thing to play with together. Of course, if they want to.
• If a child doesn’t know what he/she wants, a hobby-related gift could be good. A girl studying ballet might be happy to get tickets to a ballet performance and a little football fan may enjoy seeing a cool game.

A Christmas gift that brings joy and helps in developing oneself is the best – be it a surprise that sparks the drive for discovery, challenges one’s knowledge, or teaches a new skill. We can give a child the best gift if we appreciate his/her wishes and understand the actual needs behind these wishes.

Receiving gifts on Christmas Eve is the highlight of the year for many children, but life goes on and dreams don’t end with Christmas. Why not give a gift to these children every month and support their hobbies as a permanent donor? The support of a permanent donor is invaluable because children growing up in family homes want to practice activities and have hobbies all year round, just like children growing up with their parents. As a permanent donor, you can give them certainty that they will be able to practice their favourite activities now and always.

Donate EUR 3 each month and you will be giving children the fulfilment of success, new experiences, or supporting young people in getting an education with which to start their independent life. Give your small contribution to children living in substitute homes so that they will have the same supportive and developing environment as children being raised in your own family. Read more from http://www.heategevusfond.ee/joulupuu/pysiannetus


 

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