6 Ways To Not Spoil Your Kids During the Holidays


During the holidays we generally don’t buy our kids everything they want, but as parents we usually look back on this time of year and worry that we spoiled them despite our good intentions. It’s a result that most parents want to avoid.

The meaningful holiday traditions we want our children to experience are often lost in the rush to decorate, celebrate, and give and receive gifts. The result is too often children focus solely on the treats and toys. Since there is no end to the cool things that kids want, how do parents avoid spoiling their kids while still enjoying a meaningful holiday season? In my experience there are many different things families do to make the holidays about more than just the gifts.

Here are 6 ideas that I have gathered from actual parents over the years. I hope that their techniques will be helpful to you as well.

1. Buy fewer gifts. I know that this seems obvious, but it often takes planning and discipline to actually pull it off. Mark, a married father of 3, told me that he and his wife sit down prior to the holidays and agree on a moderate number of gifts that they want their kids to receive. That includes the gifts from them, gifts between siblings, and even the number of gifts that Santa will leave under tree.

2. “Meaningful is better than many” when it comes to gifts. That is a saying that Jennifer, a mother of 2, told me they have in their home this time of year. Jennifer and her family talk about what types of gifts would be helpful to receive or have a special meaning and then try to focus on those gifts for each other.

3. Have your kids help purchase and give charitable gifts. With some planning your children can spend time in the months leading up to the holidays earning money for this purpose. Identify a local charity and make sure the kids are involved in the entire process of planning, purchasing, and delivering the gifts. Laura, a single mother of 2, told me that this tradition has become the one that her kids talk about the most in the weeks leading up to the holidays.

4. Focus on activities with family and friends more than on gifts. Talk with your kids about how spending time together is itself a type of gift. With the rest of the year so full of activities and work it really will feel like a gift to go sledding, build a snowman, or make and enjoy a meal with family and friends.

5. Set realistic gift expectations for your children. Just because you can buy it for them doesn’t mean you should. Remember there are birthdays and other gift giving opportunities throughout the year. Ryan and Jane have their kids make a list of their top 5 most desired gifts and tell the kids that they are likely to receive only 1 or 2 of them.

6. Rein-in the extended family. Grandparents and others are often excited about giving your kids wonderful gifts this time of year, but explain to them your goal of making the holidays meaningful. Ask them to help you avoid spoiling the kids by limiting them to one or two gifts per kid.

Enjoy your kids this holiday season and help them make memories that will last long after the gadgets and toys have been forgotten.


About Author

Matt Woolley, PhD is a licensed clinical psychologist and assistant professor in the Department Psychiatry at the University of Utah. He completed his Doctoral and Masters degrees at Wichita State University in Clinical Psychology, an internship at the University of Kansas Medical School and a post-doctoral residency at the University of Utah’s Neuropsychiatric Institute. In clinical practice Dr. Woolley conducts psychological assessments, sees patients for psychotherapy, and teaches doctoral students in psychology and residents in psychiatry. He is a regular guest on KUTV Channel 2’s Fresh Living discussing relationships and parenting. He has also been a long-standing weekly radio guest on local radio, podcast host and public speaker.

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