Gift Ideas for Kids

Warning:  This might sting a little bit.

gift ideas for kids

I've been doing a lot of thinking over the past week or two.  There have been days as we've traveled that we wondered if our children were getting much out of this new life.

I think it's good to take a step back every once in a while and consider how things are going in life and whether you're achieving the goals you have for your family and yourself.  We don't always meet our goals in the time frame we like, but one BIG thing we wanted to change about the way we think has made some progress.  It is something that is hard to notice on the surface, but a simple question has revealed the answer we'd been hoping for.

"What would you like for Christmas?"

It seems like a pretty simple question, doesn't it?  I mean, what American born child do YOU know that doesn't have a list a half a page long (or longer) of things he or she would like to see under the Christmas tree on December 25th?

Just two short years ago, that was the case in our house.  But this year, those six simple words were met with blank stares from our 4 oldest children.  Yes, our youngest little guy was very quick to answer: "I want an Angry Birds pen and a game for the Wii," but I'd say that 2 gifts on a Christmas wish list that would total less than $50 for a 4 yr old is pretty stinkin' rare.

My mom wanted to send the kids a little care package, so I went around to all 4 girls and posed the same simple question, but none of them were very quick to answer.  And when they did, they were very simple and inexpensive gifts: a purse, a wallet, a new SD card for a camera, a camera case, an apron and a game for the Nintendo DS.

Now that doesn't sound bad for one child, does it?  However, that was the ENTIRE list for FOUR girls, ages 7, 9, 12 and 14.  Period.  It has REALLY made us stop and think of the intangible gifts we are giving our children through travel.

Two years ago, the list included Littlest Pet Shop toys, Polly Pockets, pricey clothes for their American Girl Dolls, games for the Nintendo Wii, new cameras, other electronics and more.

What a difference 2 years can make.

So it got me thinking about WHY our kids don't have a long expensive wish list anymore.  One reason has to be that they're not being bombarded with commercials all day long, promoting the newest "must have" toys.  We get 3 US television channels here in Mexico, but we rarely watch anything on it.  We don't get a weekly newspaper with sales flyers trying to convince us all that we need product XYZ to make this Christmas the best Christmas ever.

In fact, last Christmas in Costa Rica, the gifts were very sparse…we can only carry so much in our bags and frankly, there just wasn't much to ask for where we lived.  That Christmas day, at least two of our girls said it was the BEST Christmas EVER!  I think a lot had to do with spending Christmas with my great aunt and her family and experiencing a different kind of Christmas.

But another reason, I think, that they're not asking for a bunch of junk for Christmas is that they're beginning to realize that life isn't all about getting more stuff.  Sure, we liked to think that we were teaching them that lesson while we were in the USA, but now we're actually LIVING it.

One of our girls seemed to really struggle with being content with what she had before we moved out of the USA.  She'd get one thing and want the next version.  She wanted a SECOND American Girl doll.  And then more clothes.  And the bed.  And the wardrobe.  And on and on.  We talked with her about it, but it didn't seem to sink it.  Now she's asked for ONE thing for Christmas.

This doesn't only apply to Christmas.  We celebrate seven birthdays a year.  That's a lot of cake (YUMMY!) and could be a lot of junk.  When we lived in the USA, we'd let all the siblings go to the dollar section at Target or Dollar Tree and pick out something little for every birthday.  And then there were the gifts from grandmas.  I know all the gifts were given in love, but it got to be too much.  (We had the yard sales to prove it was too much!)  This year, we gave experiential gifts (horseback riding trips) and mostly consumable gifts like color pencils, notebooks, candies, etc.  And we saw lots of handmade treasures like bracelets, paper games, etc.

My guess is that if most people took a peek into our birthday or holiday celebrations, they would think we're dirt poor.  While we're not wealthy, we do have enough to give our kids almost everything they ask for.  The thing is that they're learning not to ask for stuff that doesn't really matter.  You can call me Scrooge, but if our kids can leave home at around 17-19 yrs old and not be drawn to spend, spend, spend (like many young adults do), we've done alright.

Now one thing they HAVE made big Christmas shopping lists for is a shoebox ministry our church runs to give gifts to local children and parents living in poverty.  Ever since we brought home the shoeboxes, my girls have been asking when we were going to go shopping for their child's box.  They were asking so much, it was driving me crazy! 

As I looked over everything we've bought for these children we haven't met (but hope to meet when we help distribute the boxes), I realized that we were giving someone else's children MORE for Christmas than we were giving to our own. 

Or are we? 

Is it unfair that my kids get less than these other five kids?  No way.

I don't share what we're doing to brag in any way…well, maybe I'm bragging on my kids because they're grasping the truth behind the saying, "It's better to give than to receive."  It's a nice saying, but deep down, do you really believe it?

It is not too late for you this year.  I want to challenge you to give away MORE to someone else than you'll give to your family this year.  Make your own Christmas wish list small, if you have one at all, but make one for someone in need BIG!

Children really do learn more by what we DO than what we SAY.  If you're frustrated because your children seem to want more and more and more and more…and there doesn't seem to be an end, maybe it's time to take a step back and think about the example you're setting.  I know I need to be more content.  It can be a daily battle and sometimes I lose.

I'm not against giving gifts.  Just consider, for one tiny moment, that true happiness can't be wrapped in paper and have a bow slapped on top.  Maybe it's time for us to start living in a way that shows it.

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19 Responses to “Gift Ideas for Kids”

  1. wandering educators Says:

    i love this – for THIS is the meaning of life, really. :)

  2. Mom Says:

    Thanks Jessie!

  3. Renee Says:

    Absolutely fantastic post! We're starting to see the same thing in our traveling daughter. Fewer wants, smaller requests, and a better understanding of the impermanence of stuff.

  4. Mom Says:

    It really is an amazing transformation…one I really didn’t see happening so easily.

  5. Tiffany Fite Says:

    Great post! 
    We are in the pre-travel phase, so very much in the non-acquisition mode. The kids get it in theory, but are having a bit of an adjustment to the thought of not buying another remote control car, for example (even with their own money, they are second guessing it). We do love giving, and have a lot of fun with it and spend on experiential gifts.  However, I'm looking forward to getting to the point they really don't "want" for anything because stuff is not enticing. Your post gives me a glimpse into our not-so-far in the future. :) 

  6. Mom Says:

    It’s hard because a couple of our children are really gifters, but they’re learning to channel that love into gifts that are consumed and ones the recipient really WANTS or NEEDS. We used to give (and receive) lots of “fluff” gifts, but now those have been dramatically minimized. You know you’re on the right track if your kids are second guessing their own buying choices!

  7. Jess Says:

    While we had traveled last year with our then 4 & 5yr olds, we are fortunate that they've never been materialistic kids even prior to the trip. You mention being 'bombarded by commercials all day long' and I think you've hit upon a key point. 
    Our kids never watch 'commercial tv'–only DVDs or a 'public service' type channel that is commercial free. I also hide the catelogues/flyers from them.  As such we've never had to deal with the 'long lists of I-wants'.
    My eldest daughter, who's turning 7, just received some money for her birthday. When I asked her if there's something that she wanted to buy with it, she replied,' I don't know what there is at the shops'.  I replied that if there's nothing that she needed, then that's ok too rather than just buying 'stuff'. She's since put the money into her piggy bank :)
    Our kids want for nothing and have whatever they need. We echo your thoughts on 'experiential gifts' in particular. 

  8. Mom Says:

    Thanks Jess. My younger sister was like your 7 yr old. She ALWAYS saved her money…and always had way more than I did, even though I was 6 years older. One year, we tried to ask the grandparents to taper back on “stuff” and it wasn’t very well received. However, my in-laws gave our oldest girls a drama class for a gift and they LOVED it. It was a gift they’ll never forget!

  9. Living Outside of the Box Says:

    An absolutely wonderful post. Thanks for sharing!

  10. Mom Says:

    Thanks, Living Outside of the Box friend! ;)

  11. Lana Says:

    I LOVE this posts. Also, a factor is just seeing real needs, and getting a perspective outside yourself. I saw this a couple years ago when one of the US kids I was living with  comes home from the war Burmese camps and says he wants to get rid of the video games because Burmese kids wouldn't find shooting games funny. This year one of the kids asked me for a cake for Christmas.


  12. Mom Says:

    Wow Lana. It’s amazing how kids pick up things that you don’t even have to tell them. They can see through so much stuff that we, as adults, seem to be distracted by. And a cake sounds like a fantastic Christmas present!

  13. Mary Says:

    Well done, what an inspiring and truthful post!  Thanks so much for sharing, I am proud of you and your family!

  14. Mom Says:

    Thanks Mary. If it wasn’t for your encouragement before we embarked on this life, I don’t know if we’d have made it this far!

  15. Stephanie Slater Says:

    This was the most amazing article. It is absolutely wonderful the gifts that you are giving your family. There is no way that money can buy the stories and life lessons that they are receiving. Keep up the great work.

  16. Mom Says:

    Thank you Stephanie. Truly humbled by your comment.

  17. Jen Says:

    We are 2 months in (but still in the USA). My son still loves to surf the internet for toys etc…but is starting to get it. He has one suitcase for toys that helps! I'm hoping once we get to Mexico the lack of commercialism will help.

  18. MyFamilyTravels Says:

    We backpacked thru South America two summers ago. In December, back in the USA, my then 9-year-old son surprised me by saying: "You know, I don't think I need anything this year for Christmas." Remembering that statement still makes me want to cry with joy.  Kids don't need stuff when you're gifting them the world.

  19. Mom Says:

    That is SO wonderful! Can you imagine how different the world would be if all children had such experiences that made them realize “stuff” isn’t what is important?

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