How many gifts do your kids get under the tree each year? Two? Five? Ten? A dozen or more?
For parents during the holidays, it can be tough: we don't want to spoil our kids, and we don't want to go broke doing it. But at the same time, we're looking forward to seeing their excited faces as they tear into that special item they've been longing for.
A recent survey of more than 3000 shoppers by the Royal Bank found that Canadians are planning to spend more this year on gifts than last year -- on average, $640. As a country, we seem to be feeling more generous. But should parents be wary of giving our kids too much?
Therapist and parent educator Sara Dimerman says yes.
"I think we do need to be more conscious of the impact of giving our kids too much, and also about giving them whatever and whenever they want," she said. "When we give our kids too much, we teach them to expect, not to give."
For this reason, says Dimerman, she's not a fan of wish lists -- a common way parents find out what their children would like.
"I think they are a recipe for disappointment if a child doesn't get exactly what he or she wants," she says. "Most children have cupboards full of toys and games and either complain that they have nothing to do, or spend their time on one or two electronic devices and ignore everything else."
Check out these ways to help others around Christmas. Story continues below:
Host a holiday party for homeless young people at a local shelter. Ask organizations in your community to donate toys, food, and decorations for the party. Remember to involve homeless young people in the planning.
Buy or ask for gifts that give back! TOMS shoes gives a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair purchased, proceeds from (RED) products benefit the Global AIDS Fund, and Soapbox donates a bar of soap to a child in need for every bar of soap purchased. Search online for more gift ideas.
Write a letter to Santa (you are never too old!) and drop it off in Santa's Letterbox at a Macy's store. Macy's will donate $1 to the Make-A-Wish Foundation up to $1,000, 000 dollars for every letter received. Miley Cyrus, Ashley Tisdale, Sophia Bush, and The Jonas Brothers all support Make-A-Wish too.
Gather a group of friends and make holiday cards. Distribute cards to nursing homes, hospitals, or mail to troops overseas.
"Donate a status" and post positive pictures on Facebook, Tumblr, or Twitter. Seventeen.com has great pictures supporting Justin Bieber's campaign with Pencils of Promise, We Stop Hate, Music Is Medicine, and much more.
Host a food drive. Register the food drive on DoSomething.org to enter to win a $100 Scholarship. Or plan a service project to address childhood hunger and apply for a Sodexo Youth Grant by January 17th to fund the project.
The holiday season can be a difficult time for young people battling depression. Let friends know that you are there for them and they are not alone. Find ways to help friends during times like this on TWLOHA.com.
Cook and/or serve a meal at a homeless shelter. Make and bring table decorations, such as place mats or floral centerpieces, to create a warm, cheerful environment for the guests. Search for local shelters on United Way or Idealist. After volunteering, continue to advocate for the homeless in your community.
Have a closet raid! Clean out your closet and donate clothes and shoes you don't wear anymore to a homeless shelter or family crisis centre. During cold months, shelters really need sweaters, coats, hats, and other winter weather gear. Find a Salvation Army near you.
Organize a coat drive at school or a community center and donate collected items to One Warm Coat. The website provides directions on how to host a drive and where to send donations.
Dimerman says this kind of overindulgence can create kids who aren't appreciative when they receive something new, or aren't able to appreciate simple things. She does acknowledge it may not be the easiest thing for parents.
"If parents consider that there is an upside to not getting children everything they want, then they may feel less guilt," she notes.
Beverley Cathcart-Ross, a certified parent educator and founder of The Parenting Network, says it's important to establish family values around events like Christmas early in your children's lives, "because it's harder to go back."
"It's not just about Christmas, it's asking, are we as a family contributing to the community?" says Cathcart-Ross. "Are we teaching our children to have social interest or are we teaching our children about ego interest and comparing, competing with their siblings and friends?"
If your reasons for cutting back are because the family budget is tight, says Cathcart-Ross, you should explain to your kids "the needs of the situation."
"Tell them, 'we've decided we need to cut back, so you can pick one thing on your list that you will get for sure, plus a few little surprises in your stocking or the Christmas cracker at the dinner table,'" she says.
If, however, you're cutting back because you think your kids are too focused on gifts, Cathcart-Ross suggests you emphasize the family traditions around the holiday season rather than the Christmas morning booty. After all, as she says, "You control the expectation."
"There may be some griping and complaining, but the parents lead the family on these things," says Cathcart-Ross. "Get the kids engaged and involved, and ask them, 'What can we do to make Christmas special?'"
Create family traditions, says Cathcart-Ross, whether it's inviting friends and family for a Christmas eve potluck dinner, heading out for a family skating or tobogganing party, or helping fill Christmas hampers for families in need.
"The wonder of childhood are the rituals a family holds, and those are mostly the things they will carry on to their later life and their families," says Cathcart-Ross. "That's what makes it a celebration and an event, rather than tearing paper off boxes all morning."