Giving the Perfect Gift

– By Sharon Ashton and Raksha Dave-Gates (Counselling Psychologists)

All we really want for the holiday season is… shared moments of joy, love, heartfelt laughter, and old-fashioned fun.  But, after shopping for endless gift exchanges, organizing the family’s social activities, and preparing food for entertaining, we are oftenexhausted.  If we don’t watch out, it can all become too much.

At this time of the year especially, we are drawn by media hype and by cultural expectations to be overly extravagant with our spending of time and financial resources.  In their new book, How Much is Enough? Everything You Need to Know to Steer Clear of Overindulgence and Raise Likeable, Responsible and Respectful Children?, Clarke, Dawson, and Bredehoft explore how we impact children’s development in our year-round giving of things like toys, clothes, activities, entertainment, or even attention. These authors offer a simple test to help adults choose how to wisely select gifts for children. An appropriate gift will successfully meet ALL four of the following criteria.

Make sure that a gift fits the developmental tasks that this child is learning right now.  For example, children aged 3 – 6 years enjoy fantasy play and will try on different roles in their play.  At this age children begin to learn to cooperate with others and they are interested in learning games with rules.

This site gives a very useful list of the developmental tasks children tackle at a variety of ages.

  • If a gift is for your own child, will its purchase take too much of your family’s resources or will it unevenly distribute the overall resources you have for the season?
  • Is the gift something that fits the interest or talents of the child or is it something you wanted or didn’t have as a child?
  • Is there any possible harm that may result to others, the community, or the environment from giving this gift?

Here are some suggestions for gift-giving to adults who already have a lot of “toys” or for those who say that they just don’t need anything more.  You can respect their wishes by selecting a charity that matches their special interest and make a donation in their name. A list and description of charities registered in Canada can be found at  A local favorite not currently listed at this site  Or if you want to give an actual gift AND support a Canadian charity, some non-profit organizations offer interesting shopping options.  Some examples can be found at these websites:

Here’s one last idea that can help families turn December into a month of caring and kindness by focusing on the sharing gifts of time, support, and thoughtfulness within the family.  Gather everyone together early in the month and put each person’s name on a separate piece of paper.  Then place the names into a special container explaining that each evening the family will get together and everyone will draw a name from the jar.  During the following day, each person will secretly do something kind for the person whose name they have drawn.  Over the month, the range and type of gift given will grow as each person has a chance to experience both giving and receiving this way.  Children of any age can have a lot of fun thinking about how they can do something special for another person in the family.  Have a wonderful holiday season as you get into the spirit of this activity!

You are invited to participate in an ongoing research project on the topic of over-indulgence. Go to this website and follow the links – The website also provides a generous portion of helpful parenting information.