Helping Kids Give Christmas Gifts

black engineOne Christmas gift from my childhood stands out vividly: a little wooden train won at the school carnival raffle. It stands out because my little brother gave it to me. There was no apparent reason – only that he liked it, he liked me, and he hoped I would like it. That little wooden train engine sat on my dresser until I left for college.

With this story in the back of my mind, our family has a holiday tradition of filling each other’s stockings with items from The Dollar Store with the hope of encouraging friendship within the family through giving. Sounds simple, right? The actual process is a lot messier.


A few days before Christmas, all six of us pile into the van. We stop first at McDonald’s and indulge our kids with Happy Meals. A fun treat—along with the silly toys—comes in really handy. We park, and Dad announces which kid gets to go first. Dad and Child #1 head into The Dollar Store. **

Dad helps Child #1 find a present for each of the other siblings and Mom. It’s not easy, because this is one of the few times we give our kids full range on decision-making.  With the gifts decided on, Dad and Child #1 pay the $4.28 and walk back to the car.

Meanwhile, back in the van, the other kids are happily eating French fries and chicken nuggets. Besides the annoyance that ketchup is not allowed in the car, things are going smoothly. The kids spot Dad and Child #1 coming towards the van, and excitement ensues over who goes next. Dad securely tucks the purchased presents in the trunk and calls for Child #3.

Off they go. The scene inside the store looks relatively the same, although the task does become a little more challenging when the same present is selected for the same person. Dad causally encourages the child to pick something else without sparking any suspicion on why.

Back in the van, the kids are becoming restless. Mom turns on Christmas music to keep the holiday cheer alive. This is slightly marred when Mom gets annoyed at McDonald’s wrappers on the floor. Silent Night plays as yelling breaks out when Dad and Child #3 return. Dad again tucks the presents into the trunk and announces Child #4 is next.

This process is repeated for each kid, as the Christmas music plays on, the car windows steam up, Happy Meal toys break, and everyone’s patience is tested. Just when we think we’re finished, Dad reminds Mom that he still needs to go in by himself, and then she can take all four kids in on her own to get presents for him. Finally, about 42 minutes later and $32.10 poorer, we pull out of the parking lot with six plastic sacks in the back and a lot of anticipation of what might be in them.

After all that, is this really worth it, you might ask? I think so. It taps into, in a practical way, a lot of what Christmas is supposed to mean.

  • On Christmas morning my kids take great delight in watching their siblings and parents unwrap the presents they personally picked out. I want to encourage this love of giving.
  • Days after, siblings will play with swords and color in coloring books – and they will remember that their sibling gave it to them. They will feel known and cared for. This is one of our parenting goals – to create friendships between the children.
  • It’s not just the siblings either – Mom will light the one dollar candle or use the wooden spoon given by one of the kids and there will be great delight in seeing the present used, knowing they were part of making that happen.
  • Years from now, my kids might remember some of the mayhem involved, but their greater memory will be of the tradition. Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Jesus, and our gift-giving echoes God’s gift to us. With the giving of gifts, we bond and get a glimpse of how family and friendship can go together.


** Admittedly, this tradition assumes there are two parents available to help. For many, this isn’t the case. Because of that, The Crossing is offering children whose moms are attending the Single Moms Christmas Countdown Dinner on Dec. 16th the opportunity to ‘shop’ while in childcare that evening.

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