Kids Motherhood

What We Need, Want and Get: How To Prepare Our Kids For The Holiday Gift Season

What We Need, Want and Get: How To Prepare Our Kids For The Holiday Gift Season
Written by Bridget Riepl

The first Toys R’ Us Christmas catalog arrived in our mailbox yesterday.  Yes, seriously.  The “most wonderful time of the year” has officially arrived before Halloween. 

But true to my holiday loving mommy self, I grabbed a pen and called my four year old twins, Sadie and Patrick, into the kitchen.  I handed the pen to Patrick with quick instructions to circle gifts for his list and letter to Santa. 

Patrick studied the magazine like a med student studies his first cadaver, carefully choosing 10 or 11 toys he would truly love to call his own.  Sadie glued herself to Patrick’s back the entire time, with wide blue eyes lasered focused on every single page. 

When her turn finally came (and by finally I mean 8 minutes after Patrick started) she circled  www.he EVERY. SINGLE. TOY.


When I asked her why, she simply said “I want them all.”

“I want” must be the most overused phrase in the average preschooler’s vocabulary. In the last 12 minutes, my kids have “wanted”: markers, popcorn, gummies, water, Peppa Pig figurines, “just one” piece of candy, my phone, toilet paper, two hugs and “the red dinosaur with the small arms.”

But all the “wanting” in the world did not fully prepare me for the massive toy circling.  And how exactly do you tell a four year old that she is acting straight up greedy?  And how do you handle the gimmies going forward?

After some reflection, I came up with a 7 part plan of action:

  1. Set expectations early. I made a HUGE mistake by handing Sadie and Patrick a toy-filled magazine and a pen.  I should have said something along the lines of “choose 5 or 6 toys that you would love to receive.”  We could have worked on counting, making meaningful choices and weighing options.  Hindsight is 20-20, right?!
  2. Talk about those in need and make a plan for how you can help them. Immediately after this all went down, I sat with Sadie and told her how many kids there are in the world who receive only one present on Christmas, or none at all.  She was shocked.  ONE present?  NO presents?  Luckily she didn’t ask me why Santa missed their homes-I didn’t have an answer for that one in my back pocket.  Instead, she immediately asked if she could buy a present for a little girl with no presents.  Belief in (her) humanity was restored! 
  3. Be aware of how many “extras” consistently enter the house. I am very guilty of grabbing random little gifts for my kids.  Wegmans trips usually end with a Shopkin and convenience store stops almost always include a special snack.  In my mind, it is “just a dollar.”  For them, it is a pattern almost justifying the expectation that leaving the house = new stuff.  After today, I plan to set clearer boundaries about what we need, what we want and what we get.
  4. Aim for earning rather than just receiving. Yes, I know my kids are young.  But they are definitely not too young to clean up their toys, ask to be excused from the dinner table, brush their teeth, put their clothes in the laundry basket and fill up our pup’s water bowl.  Plus they know that money is valuable!   My husband and I are planning to offer $4 allowances each week for a few simple tasks.  That way when Sadie and Patrick “want” something I can ask “how much money do you have?” 
  5. Sign up for a service project. The older our kids get, the more they can do for those in need.  A quick Google search offered me at least a dozen 4-year-old-friendly opportunities, from delivering meals to the elderly to cleaning up a local park or beach. 
  6. Talk about what you are grateful for every night. Before bedtime, we spend a few minutes talking about the high points of our day.  Now I plan to follow that up with a reminder to be thankful.
  7. Involve your littles in the gift buying and giving process. Truth time: giving is actually more fun than receiving (unless of course I am receiving the exact handbag I’ve coveted since 2011).  It is exciting and emotionally fulfilling to see someone you love light up as the wrapping comes off your gift.  This year I’m planning a brainstorming session for the people on our gift list.  I think I’ll let Sadie and Patrick do the wrapping too!

Today was a big lesson day in the Riepl house.  I am actually grateful to Toys R’ Us for sending out that catalog SO early.  Now I have a good two months to slay any green little greedy monsters trying to take up residence in my kid’s heads.  I have no expectations of perfection, but I know we can do better with this plan of attack.  

If you have any other great tips, I would love to hear them and share them!

About the author

Bridget Riepl

Bridget is a recovering perfectionist and former lawyer who recently decided to drop her fears {and her filter too} and start writing about anything and everything that ignites her fire, from potty training to politics. She blogs at and her work has appeared in MindBodyGreen and TheDisorganizedParent.

Bridget currently lives and works at the Jersey Shore with her twins, Sadie and Patrick, and her husband Joe who supports her spontaneity with a smile. You can find her on Instagram at @bridgetriepl or visit her on Facebook at Bridget Marie Riepl.


  • I love this! Thank you for sharing these tips on making the holidays (and life in general) less about the gifts/things! I will definitely try some of these when my little guy is a bit older.

  • Guilty!!!!! Being a grandparent I can’t help myself buying something for my 4 grandchildren every time I’m with them, only to see it broken or chewed up by their dog the next time I’d visit.Can’t wait to let them pick a name from a giving tree.
    Loved your story and ideas!!! Happy Holidays!!!!

  • Great brainstorming. I try to have each of my children pick one large gift because all the other relatives give them so many other things. Then they have to give one gift to an other child in need.

    • that is such a great point about the gifts they get from relatives! you almost forget how overloaded the car can get because of all the amazing people you have in your life. Thanks for that reminder!

  • Love the service project/giving idea! It is never too early to teach kids how to give back and have them begin to realize how fortunate they are!

  • You can’t start these types of conversations soon enough. How else can kids learn about the value of hard(?) earned money and the different ways that people live. I know my kids always found it harder to “want” something when they knew they had to pay for it. Somehow, things lost their value… go figure!

  • Hi Bridget! I think it’s fascinating how differently your children approached the task. Mine would also have been different. It made me think of the book The Five Love Languages of Children, which outlines the ways in which children feel that we love them. Perhaps your daughter falls into the category “Gifts” while your son probably does not. A long time ago, I had a good friend recommend a Christmas idea that stuck with me and we have used it ever since: each child receives 3 gifts, just like baby Jesus did. So my kids know that on Christmas morning, that is what they will be getting! They have to narrow down their list to the 3 things they want the most. (Of course, there are smaller things like hair bows, playdoh, etc in their stockings). I have also asked family to give a group gift to all my kids, instead of individual ones. For example, board games, movie theater gift cards, a museum membership, are things that the whole family can use together and “do” rather than “have.” We also do a big clean out of our toys before Christmas and give away anything that isn’t being used and loved regularly.

  • Absolutely Love this! Sharing on FB now!!!! I like to involve my kids in the gift giving process – especially when we are picking out stuff to donate!