Q&A: choosing gifts for your kids

In the spirit of the holiday season, today’s Q&A is about Black Friday. How do you decide on your gift giving purchases? Does your family set limits with some sort of tradition?

Our family’s is pretty simple. Watch the video below for today’s question and to hear how we choose what gifts to give our kids (and please ignore my Dorothy Hamill doo — I’ve had a bad hair month).

Here are some of the ideas I shared in the vlog:

Wee Wonderfuls — Hillary Lang has a great site full of creative ideas, and her new book full of 24 doll patterns looks adorable. Here’s the pattern for Olive, the doll I made Tate last year. I’ll probably make Archie for Reed this year.

Umecrafts — This is the Etsy shop where I bought my felt food patterns (sent to me as PDF downloads).

Here are some posts where I shared some of my favorite children’s books (the comments are full of great ideas, too):

10 Great Authors in Children’s Literature
Twaddle-Free Books for Preschoolers: My Top 10 Favorites
• 14 Books to Help Ease Children Through Transitions
• 10 Picture Books That Teach Important Life Lessons

And starting Monday, all of Simple Living Media is bringing you Home for the Holidays, a week of great giveaways. All 25 items would make great gifts, so I hope you’re as excited as we are! Each giveaway lasts only 24 hours, so check in daily on all five sites.

Alright, so today’s Q&A… Please share what your family does in the comments section!

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Tsh Oxenreider

Tsh is the founder of this blog and just finished traveling around the world with her husband and 3 kids. Her latest book is Notes From a Blue Bike, and believes a passport is one of the world's greatest textbooks.

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  1. Just one thought – less on what or how much to give – more just on reactions to gifts. My husband lived in Japan for several years and was amazed at how most children there received only one modest gift for birthdays and Christmas. What surprised him even more was how much pleasure each child got from their small gift.

    My thought is that, like everything, most of how children react is learned from their parents. If we show sincere gratitude and get honest enjoyment from small and simple gifts, our kids will be much more likely to as well. On the other hand, if we expect and receive a lot, without thinking too much of it, this same reaction will likely be reflected in our kids!

  2. My good intentions of giving one thing to wear, one thing to read, one thing to play with for our daughter have been sabotaged by my own lack of control the past three years. Most older family members received a charitable donation in their name with the exception of my step dad who always gets whiskey.
    However, having chosen health over income this past month the new mantra will be obeyed:
    All handmade for everyone. We have more fabric, yarn and lumber than is decent. Or, if appropriate, 2nd hand.
    This year for our daughter I plan to make a doll with matching outfit for her, a big girl bike and a book (2nd hand). My daughter is almost 4 and I hope will help me with making handmade gifts, so she can experience the joy of giving.

    Today? We’re participating in IBND. That’s right, International Buy Nothing Day. No Black Friday sales for us. Well, maybe one on Cyber Monday if I can find some ganga deals on adult continence items I might just splurge as part of HelpAMotherOut.org’s Back to Basics Black Friday Challenge.

  3. We make a price limits for family gifts. We create gift list ideas with 1 expensive “Wish” item, and some mid-priced gifts and small, cheap gift ideas so that the whole family can buy for each other.
    For several years we have made gifts forthe family – homemade sweets, cookies or preserves, cards, bookmarks, bath salts and shower gels, clothes and toys, jewelry and hair accessories.
    I believe a good book is a great gift.
    Parents can think of a gifts for their children in this way – a gift for the hands, for the head and for the heart!

  4. My husband and I stopped exchanging gifts several years ago when he went back to school and we had no money. We focus instead on doing things together that make Christmas feel special. We want Christmas to be about Jesus and food and family, and we try to make birthdays the time that we give larger gifts and celebrate the individual.

    This year, we have also agreed not to exchange presents with my mom and my brother, who were the main people we still bought presents for. I love giving presents, but I also love just spending time with loved ones and making memories. Our first child is due January 3rd, and with his birthday so close to Christmas, we will probably stick to very minimal Christmases in an attempt to make his birthday special.

  5. Growing up my mom always gave us new pajamas on Christmas Eve, and we decided to continue the tradition with our own kids. We also like to give a book, maybe a music CD, and one toy for each kid.

    What about stockings? Do you do those, too, Tsh? Or just the 3 items? We are trying to scale back this year just a tad more than in past years but I am finding it’s actually me that’s attached to the stocking idea.

    I hope it’s okay for me to comment on the vlog – I loved seeing you – great idea. I felt like you were a little too serious, though. (Which is totally what would happen to me, too!) Looking forward to more vlogs. 🙂

    • Stockings — Yep, we do them!

      And yes, I know I looked serious. It’s a fine line between serious and zany. I’m trying to find that middle. 🙂

      • Thanks for letting me give unsolicited feedback. I felt kinda bad after posting that. Anyhow, the trick is to find that line somewhere in between a Martha Stewart monotone and a Tracy Porter effervescence.

        So when you say 3 presents you mean in addition to the stocking stuffers. (Sometimes I am so black and white that 3 means 3 and nothing else unless quantified.)

    • Stockings: I’ve turned stockings into a way to get out of cooking breakfast on Christmas morning. About a week before Christmas, we hit our favorite grocery store (kids included) and go wild in produce and the bulk foods section. Each kid chooses two types of edibles to put in the stockings. We end up with a big selection of fresh fruits (including some of the more exotic options that I don’t tend to buy normally, like starfruit, or pomegranates), carrots (my littlest, Lefty, adores them), dried fruits, nuts, interesting granola, and even a bit of candy.

      The big kids help my husband and I stuff the stockings late Christmas Eve. They’ll “stuff” for each other, so the actual contents are a surprise in the morning, and they’re really good about putting in things the other will really enjoy.

      With so much protein from the nuts, and healthier sugars from real fruit, plus the treat of unusual things fresh and dried… well, it makes for a very munchy breakfast, but no sugar spikes or nastiness later in the day.

      • This is brilliant! I’m going to copy you on the nut/fruit combo. Perhaps add a special holiday carb. Have to think of something that isn’t too sweet to make. We always had tangerines in this lovely tissue paper growing up. I loved them.

  6. Our kids are the only grandkids on both sides so we personally don’t buy them anything because they get SOOO MUCH! from grandparents. But to add to the converstaion tradeasone.com has great fair trade gifts (including toys) that help people in need.

  7. We do three gifts as well (something to play, something to read, something you need), though in the past few years one of those has been a big joint gift for all the boys together. Last year, their “play” joint gift was guinea pigs 🙂 The year before, it was a wii. We do stockings too, and those are always from mama+papa (not “santa”). On Christmas Eve, I always give my boys and my niece+ nephew a new pair of handmade pj’s on Christmas eve, too. That’s one of my very favorite traditions!

  8. Tsh, I really love the three gifts idea… but I have been wondering how you handle what I see as the major wrench: GRANDPARENTS?!?!

    “We” (Charlie and I) give our kids only one or two gifts… but the grandparents on both sides go overboard. And they love it. I have a fair amount of control or influence when it comes to WHAT they give our kids, which I know is fortunate. But I haven’t been able to tone down the quantity.

    How do you handle grandparents and other extended family?

    • I would like to know this, too. We have all these good ideas about what we are going to do once our boy gets here, but we don’t know how to be moderate without crushing other people’s fun.

      • And I guess my question is really this:
        how do you send the message of moderation to your kids, when the grandparents send a completely different message? And to be honest, a part of me really enjoys the way they do things. Plus, we are blessed to be on the same page with the grandparents on just about every other message, so it feels awkward to part ways here.

        And our kids, as they are still pretty young, don’t pay a ton of attention to which gifts are from whom. So the overall message is PRESENTS!

    • Ok good our kids are not the only ones? Grandparents SHOWER them with so much. I keep reminding them we only have so many square feet. 🙂

      • My parents tend to go for books and handmade things; my husband’s family is made up of people who love my kids, and are *excellent* shoppers, but who don’t see the kids often due to distance, so when they ask about what the kids are into, I give them details that guide toward, rather than against. They know we have a snug little home, too, which helps.

        The guiding toward things seems to get a better response. It’s easier for me to say, “You know, this child loves X series of books or movies, and doesn’t own Y and Z yet; this child is still very into LEGO and would enjoy more of that; this child is excited about her new reading or art skills, and would love something along those lines,” than to give a specific list of don’ts.

        Though, the last time my dear SIL gave one of the kids something battery-operated that made a lot of noise, I did call her on the phone to ask what in the world I ever did to her, that she would be so hateful to me. 🙂 She just giggled… that whole side of the family is pretty incorrigible.

    • Would love to hear more on this too! We pretty firm with the grandparents because we don’t want Christmas and birthdays to be all about the “stuff”. We don’t have room and frankly, there is a lot of stuff=love ideas on the hubbys side that we want to see change. That being said, when we remind them of this, they get pouty, don’t do anything and put the blame for taking out the fun on us. Anyone have a good way to communicate more clearly our goal of having non-materialistic children? I feel like they don’t get the point and think we’re just picking on them.

  9. We are still trying to figure out what we want to do with our children. Our oldest is two and half so we’re getting to the point where tradition needs to start. I am curious like the previous comment if you do stockings for your children as well?

  10. We are doing “want, need, wear, read” for the kids from us this year. Wear will be Christmas pjs, that they’ll open Christmas Eve. Need is shoes or a mattress pad (depending on the kid), Want is a pillow pet, and Read is obvious. 😉 They share one “big” gift, this year it’s a swing set for the back yard. (Last year it was the play kitchen, probably next year they’ll all get bikes or a dollhouse, etc). I intentionally did not buy toys for them this year since they have three sets of grandparents, and three sets of aunts and uncles who always do that for us. I choose not to put limits on what others give them, as that always seems to make things tense. I’d rather be grateful, teach the children to be grateful, and just purge some other toys, books, and clothes to make room for the great influx.

    • My kids get one joint big gift each year too! It’s so much easier then to spend oodles of money on a big gift for each one. They got a kitchen one year (played with daily, a train table last year, this year an art easel.)

    • This is the same mentality we have adopted. The grandparents will be hurt if you try to tell them ‘no’. We have politely expressed a desire to limit material gifts. We constantly suggest “experience” gifts instead, but still get lots of “stuff.” We purge before and after christmas, and our daughter helps take the toys to kids who need them (toys for tots, shelter, etc.).

  11. oh, we also do stockings. This year I am putting art supplies (markers and stickers), plus some finger puppets from Ikea, and some small toy animals in them. Next year I’m going to remember NOT to buy socks and tights in the early fall when I buy fall clothes and save those for stockings. We live in Houston, and really–how many times have we needed the new socks yet? Those will be a stocking item from here on.

  12. OK, I promise this is the last time I reply to this post. LOL I was going to add that it’s really easy for me to do shared gifts since my kids are all essentially the same age and stage (singleton, followed by twins 12 months later) and into the same stuff. I can see how it would be much more challenging if your kids were spread apart with a more normal child spacing.

  13. Well this is our daughters first christmas and we are still trying to figure out how we want to go about it…I’m wondering if you have any trouble with extended family members buying lots of gifts for your children…do they get three from mommy & daddy and then 10 from grandma & grandpa? How have you worked through this?
    xo, june

    • Hmm, now I see that this question was already asked…I suppose I should read through the comments before I leave one of my own. 🙂

      • I guess it’s a real problem when the grandparents go overboard, or get too commercial… but, from the family with no living grandparents… and a tight budget… it’s a problem we kinda wish we had. 😉

  14. One thing we usually do is to find a game the whole family can enjoy. It is always a fun gift to give. It’s something we can break out and all play together, even on Christmas day.

  15. We have always and will always continue in our family tradition of: something to wear, something to read, something to play with, and something to read! It always consists of jammies for Christmas Eve, a book, a toy and a thing to share (i.e. a game to play with someone, a craft to do together, etc.) This eliminates all the pre-christmas worry….how much to spend, what to buy, saving for Christmas…..I can do all my shopping in almost an 1 hour and that is for 4 children and 1 hubby!!!! Love it.

    We also have a Switch Witch tradition at Halloween. I don’t like all the candy in my house (for me and my hips and my kids), so we get all our halloween candy, choose 5 candies that we would like to keep and put the rest in a bag. We place the bag on the balcony upstairs and the Switch Witch comes at night and switches our candy for a small toy. The kids pick a toy they want and I don’t have to worry about all the yukkie candy in my house. We typically spend about $10 a child for this…..works like a charm every year and it also makes mommy happy cuz I have more self control:):)

  16. oops….made a boo-boo I meant to say
    Something to wear, something to read, something to play with and something to share:):) Sorry ladies:)

  17. Where still trying to figure out what we want to do. Up until now we have had little to say about what my in-laws gave our son. Christmas for them is very important. and they always seemed to have a Quantity over quality approach. Over the past years when they have asked for ideas. I have told them mostly clothing ideas and some Quality book/toy ideas. It seem to finally be sinking in. For my side of the family we do a Christmas draw, one gift per person that way. We also purge toys in preparation for my sons birthday (He’s a Dec. baby.) 1/2 of everything out. He does this willingly. Now that we have another baby we are trying to figure out what to do for them. i love the three things idea. As to stockings. my hubby and I decided that we would fill each of them one of their regular socks. That way it keeps things toned down. Love the Christmas eve jammie idea too.
    mostly this year I plan to do more activities together. We are going to celebrate the advent at home this year. and make cookies and stuff for the neighbors.

  18. Loved seeing you chat in the vlog! Ah, one day we’ll get to sit down together over a cup of coffee – or three. Anyway, great job!

    I feel like we still wing it every year for our kids. They still like receiving books the best, so there are always books – and a candy cane. This year I’m going to add a big decorated gingerbread boy, and I have no idea what else!

  19. We’ve struggled with this issue and I think each year we are getting closer to something I’m truly comfortable with. My first child, as a toddler and preschooler, was showered with gifts because he was our first child and the first grandchild on both sides and it was just so darn fun to buy him stuff.

    Over the years though we’ve really started to get things in check. Now the kids each get one thing from us and three things from Santa (one of which is a new outfit which is very special because mostly they get yard sale clothes and hand me downs). We are doing stockings which used to also be full of little toys, but this year is just one small toy, some special snacks, and a gold dollar in the toe.

    We are starting a new tradition though now because my oldest has discovered the truth about Santa. When I was growing up, once we got a little older and figured out about Santa, we also figured out that the reason that our single mom never got any presents from Santa was because she didn’t have anyone to be her Santa. So we started making sure that she always got at least a little something every year, and as we got older and started babysitting or working, she got more things from Santa and other things started showing up in each other’s stockings that my mom didn’t buy.

    So when my son figured out about Santa we explained that it was like a very awesome game of pretend that millions of people around the world play, even grown-ups. How it is a wonderfully humble way to give a gift, without anyone knowing you did it or expecting a thank you in return. He was excited to be in on the secret, to keep the belief alive for our younger kids, and to do a little secretive Santa shopping/making himself too.

    I think that i’m okay with there being lots of presents again in the future as the kids get older because then the excitement is more on the giving…

    • I love how you’ve handled the issue of Santa with your growing child. We don’t have kids yet but have often talked about how we will handle that situation. Thanks for the idea!

  20. We are still sorting this our for our family as well. Trying different methods each year to tame the inanity. We aren’t extravagant, but when you consider: gifts from mom and dad, gifts from santa, stockings, and gifts from siblings, it gets a bit tricky to keep it under control.

  21. When our son was 1, I’ll admit I (and grandparents) went a wee bit overboard with him. After our daughter came, I knew I wanted “open ended toys” (THANK YOU!) so they could both play with them, & they would be entertained for a long time.

    -Legos are a huge hit around here. My kids have the largest ones (quattros), & I got them each a tub of the duplos.
    -Wooden train tracks, our railroads go off the train table & onto the floor!
    -Books. Books are always the one item I never feel like I am wasting money on.
    -Puzzles, (cube puzzles are great, there are 5 different photos to make, & all the cubes get flipped around) board games, wooden play food for their kitchen.
    -Stocking stuffers are simple, new toothbrushes, small matchbox cars (used with the train table), colorful socks (daughter), Arts & crafts stuff (crayons, markers, doodle pads).

    I really enjoy simple things. I am not fond of plastic gimmicky toys (my son got something last year from a grandparent that was broken & not useable in 4 minutes.) I am hoping this year grandparents simplify things as well. 🙂

  22. We do a Secret Santa sort of thing and trade names, with a spending limit of twenty five dollars. All of us kids are in our 20’s now, so we’ve stopped the big gift-giving. But I just had a baby and I’m rather worried about how much everyone is going to buy for the first member of the next generation!

  23. We don’t have any hard & fast rules, but we do try to be intentional about the gifts we give and keep it down to just a few for each child. I concur with all of you who commented about the grandparents- that one has been a challenge for us! On thing we have done is to each approach our parents (this is not an in-law job) about the amount they give our kids. We try to be honest with them and explain that our house is small and with 3 kids, the stuff adds up quickly! A while back, I wrote a post about grandparents here: http://www.paulanix.com/gotta-love-the-grandparents-part-2/
    Some of the strategies I mention for dealing with the “stuff” can be carried over for Christmas.

  24. We do 3 gifts, and kind of a combo of “want/ need/ wear/ read” and “hommade, want, family gift.”
    This year I’m actually making the olive and archie dolls from wee wonderfuls for all 3 kiddos and I’m so excited! I’m doing their hair to match the kiddo that they’re for. My SIL is going to make the little knit outfits too. :o)
    My grandfather is making the kids a group gift of blocks and I’m so thrilled!

    We do stockings as well and try to keep those to $5 or less each, but stuff that’s practical and not just junk. This year we’re doing tape (my girls LOVE it), chap stick, and gum! Our 1-year-old is going to get a few little wooden cars.

    Love reading all the fun ideas. December is extra hard for us since we have 2 birthdays as well!

  25. P.S. I meant to also say, fun vlog! ;o)

  26. we also do three gifts… a spiritual gift (easy read bible, christian dvd or book) a physical gift ( socks, mittens, hats, sweater) and emotional gift (legos, blocks, doll). the grandparents ask for a list from us and usually don’t go overboard.

    as a family we pick a few angels from the angel tree at church ~ the children really like to pick things out for other children. i tossed a worldvision catelog into the toy catelog pile this year and the older two started reading it. they have decided to take money from their piggy banks to buy mosquito netting for african children. our son also wants us to contribute to buy a family chickens, a goat and soccer balls.

    our children are 8, 6, and 2. we knew as they got older some gifts would begin to cost more so it made sense to limit gifts not the amount. of course you don’t spend the same on a 2 year old that you would an 8 year old. it is nice that they each open the same number.

  27. With our teenagers, we basically allow them one big present. Their grandparents and aunts and uncles bring them way more stuff than is decent (and a lot of it, they don’t really want anyway). My brothers and sisters (and -inlaws) do a ‘secret Santa’. It’s much more fun shopping for one person and finding something he/she will really like than trying to find 8 presents without going bankrupt or crazy!

  28. lori crawford says:

    Stockings for my family have always been filled with stuff we use on a regular basis and some fun things too. Toothbrushes, batteries, a roll of stamps, socks, pretty hair ties, whatever might be new and different. We did that last year with our littles – bibs, crayons, new toothbrushes, and always a few different kinds of snacks!

  29. I have a budding inventor (11 years old) and Makezine.com is my favorite place to get him things. He likes electronics and pulling apart and putting together things… I consider these gifts for him as science class wrapped in Christmas paper — not exactly toys.

  30. I find way to set up some limits when it comes to getting gifts for my son. For birthday it’s a 3 presents maximum, for Halloween – he cannot pick a costume that is above $30, The one issue that I am still trying to sort out is buying books. Since he usually only reads them once, I feel like it’s a waste of money, I might as well get them at the library for free. Yet for some reason he insists on having his own books. Occasionally I give up and buy the books he really-really wants as a holiday gift.

  31. I like the comment from Heidi about her husband and his experience in Japan. It’s something to remember as we start creating Christmas traditions for our son who will be having his first Christmas this year…

  32. We don’t have any kids yet, but for the adults we’ve started drawing names on both sides of the family. Each person buys for one other person, and it can’t be your spouse! We set a price limit and then everyone fills out a wishlist on Amazon.com (which can include items from other places thanks to the Universal Wishlist Button). It’s worked out well because everyone has something to open, we all like what we get, and we all save some money.

  33. We don’t have a “system” as such, but after our daughter (and just 2 1/2) got bored opening presents one year and asked me to finish doing it for her, we scaled back a lot the next year (which was last year). My biggest problem was I was wrapping up stuff she was going to get/need anyway in the month of December (i.e. next sized pyjamas) as I thought she’d have fun opening at that age, but it was just too overwhelming and I think even at that young age she wasn’t able to appreciate anything because there was too much to try and focus on. So last year I scaled back a lot, and it was still too much (with all the grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc I ended up taking back 5 things between two kids which I’d bought for them, and they never knew).

    As for the Grandparents, last year we asked my family to please try and adhere to one book, one clothing, one toy – my mom did this in the sense of one box of clothes (there were two outfits in one present), one pressie of books (three books) and a toy. She’s done the same again this year, which is great. We started with all the Aunts/Uncles (I have 2 sisters, husband has 2 brothers) buying for kids-only a few years ago, and we generally only give one present per kid. As for my husband’s parents, they didn’t have a lot of money when their kids were growing up, so Christmas and birthdays were very small. They are also not Christian (my husband is, though) so trying to get across our reasons for what we want to focus on is difficult. So after much praying and talking about it, we have decided not to take the joy of shopping and giving and seeing the kids’ reactions away from his parents; we just scale back more!

    This year we got a puppy as our family gift. So the kids are getting 3 things from us (one book, one outfit, one arts & craft kit) and their stockings. But I’m being strategic about the stockings. We relocated back to Australia from the States, and I had been couponing in the US when we lived there – so I’m stuffing their stockings with things I obtained for free through couponing: kiddy shampoo, markers and drawing supplies, kid’s toothpaste, etc. Someone wrote above the stockings are more their thing than the kids, and that’s definitely how it is for me as well. But the joy of the stocking is something I want them to feel, so I think its important.

    • Jennifer, our oldest went into full-bore meltdown after two presents her first year; we took a break. It took four days to “open” Christmas that year. 🙂

      Now we still take our time. I’d rather be opening things three days later than have overwhelmed, melting children who just want to PLAY with their new things. (And that’s with a pretty modest Christmas.)

      (One HUGE bonus of having a simpler, more classic or hand-made focus to gifts: I don’t spend my entire morning trying to untwist the nasty clear wire twist-ties originally fastened by malicious people in factories. 🙂 )

      • Liz – it cracks me up that you mention the twisty things! Last year our daughter was given all the room accessories for her Fisher Price doll house (from the grandparents who buy out the store). I spent an hour untwisting everything. So this year, the one toy for my son from my mom is a part of his Lightening McQueen race track. So I’ve already taken it completely out of the packaging and am wrapping it in a plastic Sterlite storage box that it will then be kept in! Guess we have to do these things once or twice to learn, right?

        • We switched to primarily handmade gifts several years ago… my mornings (or prep nights) are not nearly so grinchy now. 🙂 Jennifer, I’ve done exactly what you’re doing, more than once… it makes the morning SO much better!!

  34. We don’t have a set limit for the three kids but we definitely keep an eye on things and spend way less than we can afford. They each get one special gift from Santa and a few 3-5 utility gifts from mom & dad.

    For me and my grown siblings my parents give to our chosen charities in our names and then slip us all some cash too. Then as a group we do a yankee swap of something we brought from our home, no purchased gifts. It’s fun and silly and we all remember that Christmas is about being together and not material things.

  35. I have a 9 year old & 10 1/2 month old twins. I went WAY overboard this year! I know I am going to regret it after we go to all the grandparents for christmas! I can’t really complain though since I am just as bad if not worse!! I hope next year to tone it down quite a bit! I love to give & shop so it is so easy for me to get carried away! I enjoyed reading all the posts to see how everyone does things differently.