Gift-Giving Mistakes Families Make

'Dad, I wish you'd just be home more'

Danny Carson (not his real name) of Portland, Oregon, bought his 11-year-old son his first smartphone for Christmas. The gift wasn’t on his son’s wish list, but Carson thought it would help him stay connected to his son. A new job was taking the dad away from home for several nights a month. He was missing time with his boy, had to be away on his birthday, and missed many of his soccer games over the past year.

“Now you can call me or text me whenever you want,” Carson told his son.

Parents sometimes let their feelings taint their generosity, setting kids up for unintended consequences.

He expected his boy to be happy. But as his son held the unwrapped gift in his lap, he blurted out, “Dad, I wish you’d just be home more.”

Many parents flub gift-giving at Christmas. Perhaps you’ve also had your child’s Christmas joy washed away in a flood of tears. In spite of noble intentions on parents’ part, sometimes what seems like a good idea backfires — and parents wonder what they were thinking. Other times, the pitfalls sneak up on parents because they thought they had no other options.

Some of the most common mistakes I see parents make are in how they give gifts to their kids. They try to give their child a better experience than they had at Christmas while growing up, or they perpetuate patterns of giving practiced by their own parents.

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For a gift to be a gift, it should be given with no strings attached and with the recipient 100 percent in mind. Giving a Christmas gift to a child should be a generous act of love. But parents sometimes let their feelings taint their generosity, setting kids up for unintended consequences.

Related: With Great Board Games, No One’s Bored at Christmas

Avoid these mistakes with your children at Christmas:

1.) Using Gifts to Heal Wounds
When parents disappoint or hurt a child by breaking promises, by being absent for important events, or by using harsh words or actions, it’s natural to want to make things right. But don’t use holiday gifts as a salve intended to heal those wounds.

If a gift is given out of guilt or remorse, it’s not a gift but an act of penance intended to make you feel better.

When a parent has done something that has disappointed or hurt a child, the best thing to do is confess it to your child, ask for forgiveness, and take the necessary action to avoid doing it again. Leave Christmas out of it — keep the holiday pure.

2.) Using Gifts as a Bribe
Don’t use gifts as an incentive to get your children to do something you would like them to do. Using a gift to persuade kids to do something against their will or threatening to take away a gift to get their compliance will teach them to distrust you.

Related: Nature’s Abundant Gifts for Families

The only expectation that should be tied to a parent’s gift to a child is that it be used responsibly and safely. Using gifts to bribe a child sends a message that  receiving your love depends on good behavior. At the core of the Christmas message is that God loves us unconditionally — and He sent Jesus to prove it.

3.) Giving Everything on the Child’s List
What kid doesn’t want to get every single thing listed on his Christmas wish list? But children who receive every single thing they ask for are being set up for disappointment in life.

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By not buying everything on your children’s lists, you can teach them to properly cope with disappointment by learning how to express gratitude for the gifts they do receive.

Jon Beaty, a life coach and father of two, lives near Portland, Oregon. He’s the author of the book “If You’re Not Growing, You’re Dying: 7 Habits for Thriving in Your Faith, Relationships and Work.”

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