The holidays are almost here! All the shopping, baking and decorating is ramping up the excitement. With the usual holiday prep activities comes the parental discussions.

Should we give presents versus family time experiences?

How do we teach our kids more gratitude and less selfishness and entitlement?

And what about the new-age dilemma of Santa – to tell, or not to tell?

Welcome to the only holiday moral guide you’ll need, with these hot parenting topics all in one place!

Gifts

One of the biggest parenting dilemmas these days seems to be about gifts. Those old-school visions of dancing sugarplums sure seem more affordable than some of the current gift wish lists from our kids, don’t they? Children seem to have more excessive – and expensive – gift expectations each year. The holidays have become a business, and a successful one at that. But despite how many parents still heap piles of expensive presents on their kids, many are turning towards giving experiences, donating gifts to charity, or simply limiting what’s under the tree.

A simple rhyme is also becoming popular to help define Christmas wish list criteria for kids: “Something you want, something you need, something to wear and something to read.”

Parents are even assigning a budget to each of these categories, or an overall maximum for how much they are willing to spend. Alternatively, giving gifts of experiences like a family weekend of skiing, an afternoon of skating or an art workshop have a twofold benefit. Experiences reduce the amount of stuff that both litters your home and landfills when the kids grow bored of it all, and they create meaningful time together that stays memorable long after the recollection of the latest Nintendo will last.

Charity & Kindness

Another holiday trend increasing in popularity is what I like to call “do-gooding.” Whether it’s giving gifts of charitable donations like goats or clean water kits, or volunteering at the local food bank, families are becoming more interested in teaching their kids about gratitude and giving. One of my favourite December-related activities that promote compassion for others is the advent calendar that requires kids to complete a random act of kindness each day of December, instead of simply popping a chocolate in their mouth. There are printable ones online, or you can spend family time creating your own.

It’s great that the holiday season brings on a rush of philanthropy, but kids shouldn’t grow up thinking that helping others is limited to only the holiday season. In our family, we like to consider one year-long do-good project and one holiday-related act of kindness and giving.

Therapist and media personality Natasha Sharma is the author of “The Kindness Journal” and an expert on kindness. She has some great advice:

“Families would do well to practice self-compassion. Not just around the holidays, but through daily practice, until it becomes a habit and eventually, a lifestyle.”

Sharma confirms, “We cannot be kind to others until we can be compassionate with ourselves. Practice letting things go, self-forgiveness, and ridding your thoughts of self-criticism. Do small things to make others feel good, such as smiling, saying hello, holding doors open. Take it even further by writing notes of appreciation, or bringing someone their favourite drink, etc. Parents can teach kids how to be kind and appreciative by engaging them in a daily discussion that prompts them to refocus on the positive in each day and to plan how they can make the lives of others better through small gestures of goodwill. Kindness given and received has been shown to boost mental health and happiness, as well as improve immune system functioning and even prolong life.” Sounds like the perfect gift that keeps on giving!

Santa

The last few years have also seen a growing trend in parents who don’t begin and perpetuate the myth of Santa Claus, even when their kids want to believe. New Brunswick mom Krista Clark Nickerson shares, “We don’t do the magical Santa, so our six-year-old son has always known the ‘secret.’ I remember how devastated my younger brother was as a child when he found out Santa Claus wasn’t real. We also have a no lying policy in our family, so we tell the truth about Santa also. Last month, my son actually tried to convince me there was a real Santa!”

Therapist Kelly Bos advises, “The decision to perpetuate a belief in Santa or not, is really up to the parents, who know their child and what works best for their family. If a parent has decided to pursue the magical bluff and is surprised to find their child is experiencing a sense of betrayal or mistrust upon learning the truth, parents need to talk openly about it. They can discuss their good intentions, the magic and fun they had hoped to impart, and what the child and parents can do to move forward together.” Eventually, kids do forgive and forget, many replacing their disappointment and feelings of betrayal with excitement that they are now mature enough to be “in” on the secret, especially if younger siblings are involved.

Laura Soleto, mom to a six-year-old son, prefers the enchantment of the season. She sums it up, “I am hanging on to the magic as long as I can. I never grew up with the belief in Santa, and feel like I missed out!”

No matter what you and your family choose to believe in, give as gifts, or how you demonstrate caring for others, the kindness, gratitude and love you generate with your family are what gives true meaning to the holiday season.


Jackie Gillard is a freelance writer who lives on the suburban fringe of Toronto. Between writing the thousands of stories she has in her mind, she is busy as the second wife to her second husband (no, she’s not a sister-wife) and mom to a nine-going-on-nineteen-year-old daughter and a teen stepson. Coffee fuels her days and she used to enjoy wine occasionally in the evenings, but now she generally falls asleep after saying goodnight to her daughter. You’ll find links to Jackie’s published work on her neglected blog MyPapayaJambalaya or you can follow her on Twitter or Instagram to see what shenanigans she’s up to.