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  • Susan Fletcher, Ph.D.

How to Talk to Kids About Gift Giving in this Economy

This year more than ever I have worked with people concerned with how to handle the stress of the holidays. This time of year is typically stressful. But throw in the financial challenges from the economy, a strained business, a job loss, or a divorce and it becomes overwhelming for even the most astute person. I think it's tough when we are worried about how we will afford holiday gifts especially when it comes to children.

Santa shouldn't be affected by the economy - right? Being honest with your children and having age appropriate conversations will make the holidays more enjoyable for everyone.

Here are 6 Smart Moves for how to talk to your kids gift giving in the current economy.

  1. Don't be afraid of your kids being disappointed. Parents want the best for their children but spoiling a child may rob them of their own wisdom.

  • Have age-appropriate conversations with and in front of your children. Hearing parents discuss money worries will cause anxiety for children. Keep the following points in mind for different ages:

  • Ages 5 and under Quantity vs. quality. At this age kids are often more excited by the number of presents than the actual present itself. Dollar value has no meaning. Figure out ways to break apart toys or clothing outfits and wrap them separately.

Work to make the holiday about tradition as much as gift getting. Watch Rudolph on TV, drive around and look at Christmas lights, decorate the tree together. Concentrate on doing something that would not cost a lot of money like calling the local fire station for a tour or feeding ducks at the park.

  • Ages 5-9 Avoid the phrase, "We can't afford it." Instead tell kids that when we spend money on a new Wii then we will need to spend less money when buying groceries. This will also help them learn responsible spending.

Introduce the idea of charity.The best way to make your kids givers is to lead by example. This is the season of giving. Take them along when volunteering (when possible), and encourage them to allocate some of their allowance to giving to a cause they care about.

  • Ages 10-13 Be careful with kids this age because they are mature enough to feel bad about receiving a gift that can't be afforded. Hearing parents discuss money worries will cause anxiety for this age group. They will worry about their own safety and wellbeing - which could lead to symptoms similar to depression. You may even be laying the groundwork for your kids to feel guilty about receiving their gifts.

It's okay to say no. Kids at this age need to understand the limits of finances. But when you say no explain that it is because you are watching your spending because of your reduced income. Reassure them that you are making sure there is always enough money to pay for necessities like the house payment and food.

  • Simplify. Make or bake holiday gifts. This will get your children involved in the solution instead of focusing on the problem. Click here to watch my TV segment on this topic.

  • Hug the tree. This is a concept I talk about in my first book, Parenting in the Smart Zone, and also learned when I worked for Phil McGraw at Courtroom Science. It's the concept of sticking to the main point in a conversation. Think of the tree representing the topic and the tree branches other tangents. When discussing the fact that Christmas may be smaller this year keep to the point at hand - "Mom and Dad are being responsible with our money this year and/or Santa has other people in need, etc." Don't allow the conversation to go off point by discussing what their friends are doing for the holidays or what video game just came out this year, etc.

  • Start traditions. Holidays happen in a hurry for families, especially working families. They seem to come and go so fast. Talk with your children about new rituals or traditions that help the holidays last longer. This also helps to put the focus on the meaning of the holidays, instead of just the gift and Santa Clause part. Traditions that children like include following a theme of the 12 days of Christmas, going to holiday services and being a part of the celebration, having people over for dinner, having story time as a family where a parent reads out loud, even having a holiday party with friends and having a Secret Santa.

  • Put the focus on someone else. I call this the Smart Zone secret. Involve your children in giving back or donating to holiday related charities so that they can feel gratitude for what they have and learn the social responsibility for caring for others.

You may know a child who has everything. If so, click here to find out what to give a child that has everything.

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