How to Teach Kids to Give (not just get!) at Christmas

By Melanie Rainer


When my daughter first became old enough to understand the gifting part of Christmas, my own reflexes surprised me. 

What do you want for Christmas this year? I would ask.

Ooooh, is that something you would want for Christmas?

Christmas is coming, maybe you’ll get that toy then! 

Even as the words started tumbling out of my mouth, I knew something needed to change.

Gift-giving is one of my love languages, and oftentimes I challenge myself a-la-Leslie-Knope to win the gift-giving competition I’ve manufactured in my own mind. My kids are not excluded, because I love giving presents and so does my family, and it’s not a bad thing at all to receive (and to learn to receive). 

And yet, receiving can’t be all we teach our kids. Nor can it be magical, overpriced surprises that just appear under the tree on Christmas Eve. Teaching giving (and receiving) well is part of raising kingdom-minded kids, who experience the delight of gifts as tiny tastes of receiving good gifts from God. 

Here are a few things we do as a family to cultivate a healthy practice of giving and receiving at Christmas:

  1. We acknowledge Santa as a character that many people love but explain to our kids the Santa doesn’t put presents under our tree. We tell them that mom and dad (and grandparents, aunts, and uncles) work hard to make or buy the presents they get on Christmas. It’s important that presents aren’t detached from the reality of work. 
  2. When our kids ask for something expensive, we talk about it. We explain to them how much that thing costs relative to other things that we need or want as a family. Sometimes it’s a gift they end up receiving, but other times it’s just not in the budget. It’s helpful to set expectations that Christmas doesn’t work like an ATM! 
  3. When we’re not travel-restricted by a global pandemic, we sometimes go light on presents in exchange for a family trip! This was something my parents often did when I was growing up, and the memories we have from our Christmas trips are some of my very favorites. This communicates to our kids that we value time with them and experiences over material possessions. 
  4. We give time and money to charity, together. It’s important to involve kids in donating to charities or volunteering during the holidays. One idea that we want to use as our kids get older is to give them a “giving budget” (it doesn’t have to be big!) and help them identify causes or organizations they are passionate about.

We also encourage our kids to pick out and purchase presents for members of our immediate family. This is one of my very favorite Christmas traditions, and over the years we have seen our girls grow to love it almost as much as opening their own presents! 

Want to begin this tradition with your kids (even little ones)? Here’s how:

Make a list.

Sit down together and have your child (if they are old enough) write down the names of the people you exchange gifts with. We usually include grandparents and aunts and uncles who will be with us on Christmas morning or another day!

Make a budget. 

Here’s where you can add in a fun math lesson! Decide on a price limit for each gift.  We usually spend no more than $3–5 on each gift. (It’s about the experience, not the gift!!) Our kids buy and give one gift together for each person. 

Go shopping.

This is my favorite part! We go to Target or a similar store together with the specific goal of shopping for their presents to give to others. They bring their list, and we talk about ideas before we go in. Usually, we end up getting things like fun socks, candy, cute coffee mugs, or other small items under $5. But the kids pick them out, and it’s so fun to hear their reasons behind picking each thing for each person! Then stop by the wrapping paper section and have them pick a special paper to wrap only their presents in!

Teach them to wrap. 

Wrapping is a life skill! Don’t wrap the presents for them, unless they are really little. It doesn’t matter how much tape they use or how messy it is, it’s fun to learn to wrap gifts. 

Give the gifts together!

Usually, our girls are so excited to give their gifts that it is the first thing they want to do on Christmas morning! 

As the holidays approach, prayerfully consider ways you can encourage your kids to give as much (or more!) than they receive. Have more ideas or traditions you keep in your own family? Share them with us on social media!