Is it ok to ‘spoil’ your kids at Christmas? If you ask around you’re likely to find a mixture of views. Some parents will sit in the ‘bigger is better’ camp, making Christmas as magical and memorable as possible regardless of expense. Other parents will fall on the side of keeping Christmas pared back, channelling your inner minimalist for fear of raising narcissistic kids. But what makes the difference between blessing and spoiling our kids at Christmas? Is it really about the number of shiny boxes under the tree?
The Bible is clear that giving is a good thing - Psalm 37v21 says the “righteous give generously”. And yet we know from experience the complete sensory overload that can easily happen to young children on Christmas day, as new toys are tossed aside in the frenzy of opening another, followed by the dreaded “but this isn’t what I wanted!”
Various gift-giving models have popped up in the past couple of years to try and reduce the chances of spoiling your child. One is the idea that Jesus had 3 gifts, so that’s good enough for your child. Another more popular idea has been the ‘4 gift rule’ – something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read. These can provide helpful frameworks, but you could still spend to excess within these parameters, so it’s no guarantee.
The dictionary defines the word 'spoil' in the context of children as 'to weaken the character of a child by complying unrestrainedly with its desires.' So the root issue isn’t a number; it’s what’s happening inside our kids that matters:
1. We spoil our kids when we let them think that Christmas is all about them. It’s about Jesus, and we need our focus to be on him rather than ourselves (John 3:30).
2. We spoil them when we teach them to give material things inflated importance. Matthew 6v20-21 reminds us to “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven … for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
3. We spoil them when we let them forget about the needs of others. The Bible is full of verses encouraging us to care for the needs of others, particularly those in our church family, and the poor (e.g. Gal 6v10, Prov 19v17, 1 John 3v17-18).
4. We spoil them when we allow them to think that they must have the same things as everyone else. Growing up in Christian families, our kids will be different to others, 'strangers' who don’t conform to the world around (Heb 11v13).
But none of these things are really focused on just one day in December. Rather, they’re things to model and teach throughout the year. What happens on 25th December is unlikely to ultimately determine our children’s attitudes. If we are teaching our children the gospel, gratitude, care for others, and delayed gratification, the day to day learning is likely to be what sticks.
Then for Christmas, decide as a family how you will reflect the values you hold the rest of the year. Involve your kids in that discussion if they’re old enough. If stewardship is important to your family, you could agree you won’t spend money you don’t have. If giving to others is a priority, you could decide to donate to a charity on Christmas day, or donate to a foodbank on Christmas Eve. If quality family time is important, you could start a list of Christmas traditions, rather than a list of present ideas. You might decide on a set number of presents to give you a benchmark, or decide on a total value spend. It’s also a good idea to manage expectations, being clear from the start that your child probably won’t get everything they would like. Modelling gratitude and contentment as parents will also have an impact on your children, as you work hard to say something positive about even the most random presents you receive.
Most importantly, decide how you will keep Jesus central to what happens on the day, rather than everything revolving around present opening. Find a Christmas Day service to attend, read the nativity narrative over breakfast, sing carols, take time to praise God for all the ways he has blessed your family in the past year over dinner.
Each family is different, and there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ Christmas Day. But if we teach our children servant-heartedness, gratitude and contentment throughout the year, and then focus Christmas day on God’s ultimate gift, we can enjoy giving good gifts to our children and praising God for all that he has given us together.