5 Ways To Quell Gift Frenzy In Kids


My mother always wrapped presents and put them under the tree just a few days before Christmas.

As a parent of six children I’m sure she learned quickly that the longer the gifts were out and visible, the more worked up we would get. There would be more fights between siblings and more tears about if we were getting that hoped for gift. When one of us couldn’t take the tension of not knowing what was under the gift wrap a small tear might appear on a box.

Christmas was a season of joy and drama.

If you’re tired of the fights, tears and repeat conversations about what Santa will bring this year, try some of these ideas.

5 Ways to Quell Gift Frenzy In Kids


      1. Keep the gift conversation to a minimum. Focus household talk about things to do and enjoy instead of the upcoming gift giving. Remind your children about the highlights and chores of their regular schedule: the swimming lessons, the homework and the bedroom that needs to be cleaned.
      2. Set a space/item limit for wish lists. The Want, Need, Wear, Read gift philosophy is quite popular. This gives kids, and parents, a good start to shaping and limiting the amount and type of gifts children receive. There is a free printable here that would be great for this wish list.
      3. Make wish list writing a one time activity. No adding or editing once the list is finished. Post those lists to Santa the same day they are written.
      4. No gifts under the tree until Christmas Eve. I love this suggestion from Small Notebook to use the base of a tree as a library in the lead up to Christmas Day. For older kids put out board games and DVDs you already own. The sight of wrapped gifts is intoxicating for children young and old.
      5. Be charitable. Even my three year old understands the concept of giving and sharing. He may not understand the why of it all but if I gave him an unwrapped new toy to put in a donation bin, he’d understand that we were giving that toy away. There’s also a good chance he would cry about it of course. Have your children clear out toys and books from their own collection to donate to charity. Get a list from your local food bank of needed nonperishable food and take your children on a shopping trip for someone else.

We’re still in a sweet spot with our son just being three but I’m already doing a few of these things. No Christmas Wish List, books under the tree until Christmas Eve and we’re donating locally.

How do you keep the gift frenzy at bay at your house?

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  • WIth four kids I have always tried to keep Christmas to a minimum. I will admit, it has gotten easier as the kids have gotten older . I have 4 ages 16, 15, 13, and 11. I grew up an only and my husband was one of 4 so we had very differnt experiences at Christmas. There was never a problem getting what I wanted , but my mom made sure I did not get too much and gave gifts that were useful. My husband on the other hand , grew up in a much more frugal household. We have come to a compromise …. the kids get to ask for 3 things and we set a dollor amount. I try to keep within the dollor amount that we set for each child and the kids are always happy on Christmas. Yes, they go to school and here about all of the latest tech gizmos and lavish clothes from other families… but they know that is not how our family works.

    My husband and I tell our kids that they will never know if we have lots of money or not because we would not live any differently than we do now. I feel as though I could write a whole post about this topic !

    It is unfortunate that Christmas is the ultimate example of how consumerism has gotten the best of us.. with your website and others maybe people will come to inderstand that simple and minimal is so much better!. I hope you and your family have a very Merry Christmas!

    • My husband and I tell our kids that they will never know if we have lots of money or not because we would not live any differently than we do now.

      If you would ever like to guest post on this topic let me know. Email me: the minimalist mom @gmail dot com. More discussion on this approach would be great! Interested to hear more.

  • These are great ideas! I’m just wondering how to adoptsome of this with a child who is already 7 and has a certain precedent by now. He still believes, too, which means at least the gifts from Santa can’t noticeably diminish or there will be questions! I love the magic of believing and don’t’ want to diminish that, as I’m sure there won’t be many more years.

    • Good question. I’ve read on a few other posts that parents who have been slowly reducing toys, etc with their kids are seeing that this year the children ask for less. The want/wear/need/read system has become quite popular too – could you transition to that? Maybe start next year with a list of the four items.
      I’m sure parents with older children will chime in with some ideas for you. Good luck!

  • As with everything else, Christmas excitement needs balance. I think, getting high about Santa and the presents is a great thing for kids. Yet I like not letting them frenetic and then be disappointed or resentful that they did not receive the two-zillion other toys their friends might have got for Christmas. Being charitable, limiting the wishlist and focusing on the Christmas preparations are all really good suggestions of keeping the excitement at bay. …although even with that, my 9-year-old has been dreaming about Santa every night over the past week. :)

    • Great that he is excited :) I am sure he has expectations that are realistic and in line with how Santa gives in your family.
      I still want my kids to be excited for the gifts along with the many other wonderful things the season brings. Hopefully we can continue to find a balance. Reminding myself we are at the easy age and to just enjoy it.

  • Last year we didn’t have any gifts under the tree. It was not on purpose the whole month of December some one in my family was sick so I just never got around to it. As I was wrapping gifts Christmas Eve night I realized how nice it was not to have presents under the tree. My kids truly enjoyed the Christmas Tree and I didn’t have to hear endless talk about what might be wrapped under the tree for them. We have also been doing the want, need, wear, read gift idea and it is working quite well for my family. It’s fun to get creative with it. We also consider a need to be something that feeds your soul. For example, last year my son got a pillow for his need but this year we got him a beautiful tin pencil holder filled with quality drawing pencils. Drawing is a passion of his so we felt this to be a need.

  • Our boys are still quite young (2&4), so there aren’t too many expectations as of yet. We’ve never had a tree and explain that Santa is a story. Our 4 year old still thinks the day is all about presents though. We’re trying to quell that by having them open only a few gifts on that day and then allowing them to open other gifts (like from family) on other days. We’re also planning on instituting a fun family outing on Xmas like going to the movies, picnicking, hiking, etc. Finally, as they get older, we hope to do more volunteering. It’ll be interesting to see how our boys handle our different celebration style, but I just hope that they don’t grow up as I did expecting a certain amount of things and only looking forward to the stuff.

  • Hello! We do a few of these things (1,4 & 5), but I think the first suggestion is the magical one.

    My children are 11 & 12 and it’s the first year that neither have written a Wish List. They have always done so in the past, which have been modest in request and number (3/4 things max, 1 of which has always been a Terry’s Chocolate Orange.) I’m not a fan of wish lists, but my girls always loved writing to Santa, asking after Rudolph etc and sending the letters by burning them on an open fire is quite enchanting and it’s something I recall doing fondly as a child myself.

  • When I was a kid, my parents didn’t give us gifts. Only Santa did. So there were no presents under the tree (other than ones we were giving to others) until Christmas morning. My mama was a smart woman (and so are you).

  • Oh, I forgot to say that in our house, Santa has always (only) brought the stocking gifts.

    We then buy them 3 gifts each, to represent frankincense, gold & myrrh. This year, one child’s three are a £4 book, a homemade item and some Lego.

    I never work to a budget, but purposefully spend a lot less than we could afford. I don’t want the focus to be on (receiving) gifts, nor to breed ‘wanting’ children. The kids are happy and appreciative. I believe less is definitely more when it comes to personal possessions, particularly for children.

  • I like that list, especially the idea for books under the tree. I will be doing that this year!
    We don’t let the children write Christmas Lists, although every person we meet seems to be asking them what they have asked Santa for! I try and play down the gifts if I can. Christmas for me is about being with family and I don’t want my children to think it is all about who got the most presents. I know friends who give their children the Argos catalogue and a pen and then go into debt trying to buy everything. As one Mum said ‘ He want’s so much, and I know he will be disappointed on Christmas Day’ which just made me feel so sad.

  • Love the posts! When our kids were little, they received three gifts from Mom and Dad. One was always an ornament tying in with an event or hobby from the past year. Each child has an ornament box. My oldest will soon take hers to her own home! Second gift was a piece to add to their nativity set. We bought Fontanini pieces. The third was something small. When they were older and the rest of the gifts didn’t just appear Christmas morning, I began placing all wrapped gifts under the tree as soon as they were bought (we lack storage, and daughter snoops), but I’d only place a number on the package…no name. I kept the master list hidden which told me what number went to what child. It kept them guessing. We, too, have always spent minimally no matter our financial state that year.

  • I’d be curious to know what you observe about where you are living (or have lived) and to what extent the differences between the UK and/or Irish traditions does or doesn’t help achieve this goal. My mom is originally from the UK, and as kids our tree always went up (and stayed up) later than is typical in the US, and I observe similar patterns among my European cousins (4 nations represented) today. One of the national and/or cultural traditions represented holds that the Baby Jesus puts up the Christmas tree on Christmas eve, and the (small) kids are all whisked away by the moms to a Christmas (pageant) service while the dads put up the tree. Which is an interestingly different (to me) blending of the Christian and Pagan traditions (Baby Jesus putting up a Christmas tree?!) but does have the obvious advantage that most of the pre-Christmas tree-related nuttiness is inherently impossible, if the tree cannot be put up until Christmas eve.

    Here in the US for 2012 it’s either an extra tough or an extra easy year, maybe a bit of both, because of Thanksgiving having fallen so early. On the one hand, there’s plenty of time to prepare for Christmas (and get shopping done), and on the other, there’s plenty of time to stew and generally get in a fix (and of course to spend money).

    • That really is interesting. Here in Germany, traditionally the Christmas tree is lit for the first time on Christmas Eve and that is also when we exchange presents. Some families decorate the tree together one or two days beforehand, others keep the whole tree-decorating secret for the kids. My childhood memory is being in the nursery or elsewhere, singing songs or playing board games, after we returned from church, waiting for the sound of a little bell and upon that entering the living room where the Christmas tree stood. The whole beauty of the glamorous, glittery and shiny tree always made me gaze and that was so wonderful that it was only at the second glance that I would see the presents underneath it.
      (Btw: in my childhood it was also “baby Jesus” who brought the presents, although I didn’t realize that until later, it had a special name “Christ-child” and for me as a Child it has always been an angel who flew from one house to the next to bring presents, much like Santa does in the US, accompanied with lots of little helper-angels. The picture books showed it like that as well. We also put our wish lists on the window sill so that it could fly by and get them.)
      I think with real trees and real candles (as it has been normal until about the 80s, 90s around here), putting the tree up too early is a fire hazard. Still with fake lights nowadays the real tree is supposed to be fresh at Christmas, so we put it up so late. It’s usually up until January – usually until after the 6th of January, in some regions even longer.

      • That is interesting. Yes, the part of the family that observes this tradition is still using real candles (in addition to a real tree, but although those are now ‘optional’ in many parts of the US they are very much the norm even for my US-side family. Our trees are not live, however (as MelD describes below), just real, but cut and not rooted. Though rooted trees are available and I did briefly this year consider getting one, but didn’t pursue it and we didn’t. Yes, our tree is already up … I have yielded to my DH’s expectations on that one! But 12/24 through 1/6 would have been more the norm when I was growing up.).

        And it is likely the “Christ Child” rather than the “Baby Jesus” who is bringing the tree (and perhaps gifts?), I suspect that got mangled in translation (to me, not from me, it was my bilingual American family explaining the traditions to me and I am not a speaker of the language in question and didn’t think to question. But of course “Baby Jesus” and “Christ Child” are really the same person, even if to the adult mind the idea of a baby delivering trees or gifts is an odd one!

  • we don’t tend to place gifts under the tree until Christmas Eve, and even then they are only very minimal, a couple for each of my children from there grandparents who live locally. Anything else is in the actual stocking from Father Christmas. I tend to pick a book for each a child, a sticker book I know they will have fun with and useful gifts like cute socks and underwear, natural lip balm, cute soaps and pretty little chocolates and sweets and a little satsuma.

  • I echo Sanna about the traditions: as a child, my German cousin and aunt took on the tree-decorating on the afternoon of the 24th and an open window when the door was finally opened just after dark indicated that the Christ child had just been to deliver the presents and flown away…
    Fortunately, I have to say, I had few English Christmasses (my parents are British/German). So I never knew a frenzy and it never happened in our own family, either. For my girls, growing up in Switzerland, Christmas really begins mid-November with making hollowed-out Swedes into lanterns for the lantern parade – all the village street lights were switched off while the parade is on so that it’s really by candlelight, with singing of traditional autumn lantern songs and all the families filing along behind the KG and school kids.
    Soon after this, Advent begins, around the end of November usually (the four Sundays before Dec 24th), so there is making the Advent wreath, decorations, baking etc. to keep the kids occupied. Then the Advent calendar for countdown, not always with chocolate or gifts, but always a festive spirit, hot drinks, traditional biscuits, lots of candles around, storytime, wishlists… On Dec. 6th, there was always a bag of nuts, mandarine oranges and chocolates and how many Santas or St. Nicholasses can you spot out and about?! Sometimes there were events where the kids got to see or visit a Santa, recite a short poem and get more nuts/chocs/fruit and spiced cake or bread men sprinkled with sugar… Followed by the remaining Advent Sundays, where an additional candle is lit each week as the countdown moves along, with families gathering on Sunday afternoons.
    Rather than getting into a frenzy, I think this spreads out the excitement. We always celebrated Dec. 24th at my in-laws and my kids were expected to wait until my MIL distributed the presents individually – AFTER having sat and admired the candles on the tree, read the antique bible and waited for the adults to raise their glasses… Even on the 25th, when we have always had an English Christmas with turkey etc., the kids waited for our OK towards the late afternoon before opening presents (some more carefully than others!) and had time to enjoy each individual parcel. My daughter now does this with her kids, too – they are excited but learn to wait until the appropriate time but the excitement hasn’t built up to catastrophic levels (she has a very lively 4 yr old and a toddler).
    As for trees, our homes are too warm and well-insulated to warrant having a live tree up for longer than Dec. 23-Jan. 6th!! It seems curious to us to have a tree up for the whole of December!

  • Thank you so much for this post! This is just want I was looking for! As a wife and a new mom of an almost one-year-old, I am passionate about living simply and minimally. I want to set expectations early, so we don’t have to come up against the “gift frenzy” in the future!


  • There were never any presents under the tree until Christmas morning growing up and I’ve maintained that tradition with my kids. The wonder of going to bed on Christmas eve and waking to a tree with presents is magical! My kids are almost 13 and 6 yo and they do not make wish lists, never have. I don’t even ask them what they want but I do pay close attention to their interests – wants and needs. They do not watch commercial television so do not lust for all those junky toys, they have no clue when a friend says she wants a certain Barbie what that Barbie may be. We don’t talk about gifts much at all!

    My 6 yo is getting an art desk for Christmas with some art supplies. I bought a small second hand computer desk ($25) and am refurbishing it to be an art desk. I also made her a tutu. A few other small things like new pjs and that’s it. My eldest is getting a sports watch and a new outfit. And a few small things like an exercise ball. They will both be thrilled with their gifts I believe and it’s not overboard.

  • I don’t have enough closet space to wait until Christmas Eve to put out the gifts, especially considering I also buy gifts for cousins, aunts, Grandparents, etc. As soon as I get it, I wrap it and it goes under the tree. I consider it part of our December decor. Plus, it’s less stressful than hurriedly wrapping immediately prior to leaving for someone’s house or wrapping all of the kids’ presents in one shot the day before Christmas. (Especially since I’m usually cleaning the house that day since we host Christmas brunch.)

    I do let my kids look at the toy catalogues and circle things; however, I never actually buy anything from them! So far, I haven’t gotten any blowback. :)

    I do let the kids ask Santa for something, which I try to honor in some fashion. I’ve lucked out that the last two years, all the kids have asked for are candy canes!

  • This December, we had a small party instead of a large one for my 8 year old’s birthday. Several of the children forgot to bring their presents, and I was a bit concerned how my son might react. After the party, he opened his three presents and was gloriously happy! He said he had a great time with his friends, loved his presents, and had the best birthday ever!

    I feel a little ashamed that we’ve spent so many years focused on presents–he really taught us a lesson.
    This year, we are buying fewer gifts and spending more time together.

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