14 Ways to Jump Off the Too-Many-Kid-Gifts Treadmill

Photo (cc) by Richard Corfield (M0RJC)

Last week I went to a nearby Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft to buy a book of brain teasers from the dollar section (60 cents with coupon – an inexpensive stocking stuffer for a young relative). An older woman was visibly fretting as she picked things up and put them down.

“What do you buy for someone who already has everything?” she asked me.

Seems that her two granddaughters, ages 4 and 6, drop by fairly regularly. Some time ago she started buying little gifts for each visit, and now she’s wishing she hadn’t. Although the first thing they want to know when they cross the threshold is what they’re getting, they often don’t even bother to take the items home.

I gently asked if it were stressful always to have to come up with a new and exciting gift. She nodded, then shrugged and said, “But they expect it.”

Oh boy.

Maybe you’re in the same pickle. Maybe you’ve become the Disneyland auntie or the grandparent who always brings treats or small gifts to the small people in your life. Not only does this get expensive, it may create problems for the kids in the long run. (More on that below.)

Expectations are made, not born, and behavior can be modified. I promise that children will not be irreparably scarred if visits don’t always include a door prize – especially if you replace physical goodies with gifts of time.

Not just occupying the same space, mind you. Sitting on the sofa while they watch movies or play video games is, technically, time spent with the children. But they could get that anywhere (and maybe already get plenty of it at home).

When my nephews come over we generally reprise the Café Awesome game. Not only does it make ordinary snacks more fun, it’s reinforcing the basic cooking skills their mom has been teaching. This is a great lesson for financial independence: These young men will have the tools for healthier eating (and saving a ton of money) by being able to cook at home vs. always eating out.

So why not try a simple cooking project with your little friends? When my younger nephew was 6, he made a skillet of cornbread from scratch, even reading the recipe card himself. The sense of accomplishment was great, and the hot-from-the-oven snack was even better.

Building skill sets

Or how about these quality-time options:

2. Garden together. Set aside a patch just for your little friend and let him or her choose what will grow there. Condo-bound? Do a container garden with something fun like cherry tomatoes or Thumbelina carrots. Note: Kids are a lot more likely to eat their vegetables if they have a hand in producing them.

3. Pick fruits or vegetables. This summer my nephews liked pulling and eating sugar snap peas and helping me pick raspberries. They also picked feral raspberries with their mom and me. Last weekend and they helped DF pull our small crop of carrots, which was great fun (and over much too soon, in their opinion). If you don’t have a garden or a place to glean fruit, visit one of those you-pick farms. Again: Kids are more likely to enjoy fresh food if they’ve participated in its growing or gathering.

4. Do chores. A 3-year-old who’s given a feather duster and, later, praise for a job well done is a happy 3-year-old. Older kids can be given more responsibility: running the vacuum, folding towels, drying dishes. Maybe it wouldn’t be their first choice of activities, but hearing “thanks for your help getting all this done” can be a source of pride. It doesn’t hurt to point out those efforts to their parents: “See how nice the yard looks after Junior and I raked all the leaves? He worked really hard.”

5. Build a hideaway. Maybe that’s a tree fort constructed with scrap lumber and pallets you got from The Freecycle Network, or a “tent” that you make by throwing a sheet over the kitchen table. Make-believe is easier when you have a pretend place into which to disappear.

6. Play a board game. Go to the thrift store and find stuff you used to play (Parcheesi, Scrabble) or games you never heard of (Would You Rather … ? or Pictionary). Resist the impulse to let them win every time. Learning to lose graciously is what my dad would call “a useful life skill.”

7. Take a walk. Make it a noticing kind of stroll – look for the first dandelions, or the brightest autumn leaves, or the most interesting clouds. Propose taking pictures of, say, all dogs or flowers seen on the walk (but if Junior is a butterfingers, better hang on to the camera or smartphone yourself). If you notice any coins, pick them up and save them until you have enough to donate to a local food bank. (Being able to think about the needs of others is a really useful life skill.)

Lively times, lively arts

8. Write a letter. Sit down and compose a note to a far-away relative, or the president of the United States. Or make a holiday card together and drop it off at a nursing home or long-term care center, asking that it be given to someone who never gets any mail.

9. Go outside. Skip stones on a pond, or skate on it during the winter. Fly a kite. Build a snowman. Play a game of follow the leader. Teach them to play jacks or hopscotch.

10. Read to them. I can’t think of a better way to encourage a love of reading. Ask the children’s librarian for recommendations. Alternately, let the child read to you. Not only does he get to show off his new skill, he gets to share a great story. If your library has reading nooks or platforms, sit down right away with your new finds.

11. Tell stories. Kids who love being read to will likely adore stories that come out of your own head or from your childhood experiences. Bonus points for making the child a central character in your tales. Or make up a story together: You start, and then hand off the plot line to the child(ren) in the room.

12. Create art. Stir up a batch of homemade modeling clay and sculpt all afternoon. Finger-paint. Decorate any paper bags you have in the house. Illustrate one of those stories you made up and make a book. The Internet has approximately 6 zillion creative ideas for art, so start surfing.

13. Make music. Sing together, either accompanied or a cappella. Teach them the songs you sang when you were a kid. Singing makes chores go by much faster, by the way.

14. Put on a show. Are the kids taking ballet or Suzuki classes? Be the audience. Be the appreciative audience. Make a point to praise their effort vs. their innate fabulousness, though. (“I’m proud that you work so hard at this” rather than “You’re the smartest little girl in the world – that’s why you can play the violin when you’re only 5 years old!”) Otherwise you might set them up for problems later on, researchers say.

An addiction to novelty

Speaking of problems later on: That grandma at Jo-Ann’s should rethink her well-intentioned gifts. I understand the impulse. She probably wants their time together to be magical.

Magic doesn’t always mean materialism, though, and it’s a mistake to get the kids hooked on the thrill of wondering what they’re getting this time. Or, more to the point, hooked on the idea that they deserve something just for showing up.

This early addiction to novelty could become an inability to be satisfied with anything for very long. Something new, something unknown, something really exciting could always be at the next mall – but once they have it, the item quickly loses its charm. What’s new is suddenly old.

If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, the road to insolvency is littered with credit card receipts. So do your kids/grandkids/godkids/whomever a big favor and don’t give them too much. That is, unless you’re talking about time and attention. That stuff never gets old.

More on DonnaFreedman.com:

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Read Next
13 Small Gadgets Under $20 That Make Life Better
13 Small Gadgets Under $20 That Make Life Better

These inexpensive electronics will make your day-to-day life a little easier — and happier.

This Online Bank Rated Best for Second Year in a Row
This Online Bank Rated Best for Second Year in a Row

This bank pays interest without charging monthly fees, but there’s a downside.

8 Types of Companies That Check Your Credit Report
8 Types of Companies That Check Your Credit Report

Federal law lets these entities peek at your credit — regardless of whether you’re borrowing money.

Should You Hire a Service to Negotiate Your Cable and Other Bills?
Should You Hire a Service to Negotiate Your Cable and Other Bills?

Services like BillCutterz and BillFixers will negotiate your cable, internet, phone and other monthly bills in exchange for a share of the savings. I tried it: Here’s what happened.

5 Home Improvements That Help You ‘Age in Place’
5 Home Improvements That Help You ‘Age in Place’

These safety-conscious home upgrades can help retirees stay in their home.

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Most Popular
9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again
9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again

The warehouse store offers an enormous selection, but these products aren’t coming back.

11 Things Retirees Should Always Buy at Costco
11 Things Retirees Should Always Buy at Costco

This leader in bulk shopping is a great place to find discounts in the fixed-income years.

Over 50? The CDC Says You Need These 4 Vaccines
Over 50? The CDC Says You Need These 4 Vaccines

Fall is the time to schedule vaccines that can keep you healthy — and even save your life.

11 Household Items That Go Bad — or Become Dangerous
11 Household Items That Go Bad — or Become Dangerous

When you get the impulse to stockpile these everyday items, pay close attention to their expiration dates.

8 Things You Can Get for Free at Pharmacies
8 Things You Can Get for Free at Pharmacies

In this age of higher-priced drugs and complex health care systems, a trip to the pharmacy can spark worry. Freebies sure do help.

7 Ways to Boost Your Credit Score Fast
7 Ways to Boost Your Credit Score Fast

Your financial security might soon depend upon the strength of your credit score.

11 Senior Discounts for Anyone Age 55 or Older
11 Senior Discounts for Anyone Age 55 or Older

There is no need to wait until you’re 65 to take advantage of so-called “senior” discounts.

These Are the 4 Best Medicare Advantage Plans for 2020
These Are the 4 Best Medicare Advantage Plans for 2020

Medicare Advantage customers themselves rate these plans highest.

The 10 Most Commonly Stolen Vehicles in America
The 10 Most Commonly Stolen Vehicles in America

A new model parks atop the list of vehicles that thieves love to pilfer.

19 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a 2-Year Degree
19 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a 2-Year Degree

These jobs pay more than the typical job in the U.S. — and no bachelor’s degree is required.

9 Deep Discounts Available on Amazon This Friday
9 Deep Discounts Available on Amazon This Friday

These items are all steeply discounted — but the deals won’t last long.

The 15 Worst States for Retirees in 2020
The 15 Worst States for Retirees in 2020

Based on dozens of metrics tied to affordability, quality of life and health care, these are not ideal places to spend retirement.

5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free
5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free

Hesitant to drop $119 a year on an Amazon Prime membership? Here’s how to get it for free.

26 States That Do Not Tax Social Security Income
26 States That Do Not Tax Social Security Income

These states won’t tax any of your Social Security income — and in some cases, other types of retirement income.

10 Reasons Why You Should Actually Retire at 62
10 Reasons Why You Should Actually Retire at 62

If you can, here are several good reasons to retire earlier than we’re told to.

3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free
3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free

With a little ingenuity, you can cut Office costs to zero.

5 Keys to Making Your Car Last for 200,000 Miles
5 Keys to Making Your Car Last for 200,000 Miles

Pushing your car to 200,000 miles — and beyond — can save you piles of cash. Here’s how to get there.

7 Surprising Features That Boost Your Home Value
7 Surprising Features That Boost Your Home Value

You can add value to your home without hiring a contractor to do expensive renovations.

5 Things That Make Life More Meaningful for Retirees
5 Things That Make Life More Meaningful for Retirees

Retirees agree: These are the things that give them purpose and fulfillment in their golden years.

View More Articles

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Add a Comment

Our Policy: We welcome relevant and respectful comments in order to foster healthy and informative discussions. All other comments may be removed. Comments with links are automatically held for moderation.