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Am I being a bad parent... by telling the relatives not to buy my son any Christmas gifts?

How many presents is too many presents? Three experts have their say.

Image: Shutterstock

EACH WEEK, WE hear from a reader who can’t figure out what to do about a tricky parenting situation. To get a balanced take on the dilemma, we ask Irish parenting experts to weigh in.

From choosing whether to push toilet training to allowing a baby to ‘cry it out’, being a parent involves decision after decision – and a whole lot of questioning yourself.

This week, one father is unsure whether he’s doing the right thing by asking friends and family not to buy Christmas presents for his son, who already “has a lot at home”. 

Have a parenting dilemma you’re struggling with? Let us know anonymously here and we’ll share it with our panel of experts. 

This week’s dilemma

I have a four-year-old son who I love to bits. He’s more excited than ever this year about Christmas, but I’m very conscious of him getting a lot of presents. He’s my only child and the youngest in the family, so he usually gets spoiled on his birthday and at Christmas. However, he already has more toys than I can count at home, and he really doesn’t need any more.

Myself and my wife are getting him a few things off his Santa list, but we’ve asked family and friends not to get him Christmas presents. We’ve explained that he already has a lot at home, and most people understand, but my sister said we were being unfair and that he should be allowed to be spoiled. Am I being unreasonable by telling people not to buy my kid Christmas presents?

What the experts have to say…

No, you’re not being unreasonable. I understand why you want to limit gifts; this time of year can be very difficult for many families while for others it’s overwhelming – an unfair comparison in my eyes, but a reality. Having one child in a family will naturally attract those wanting to spoil them. Acknowledge this as well when your sister is particularly generous every other time. The majority of people are open to change and happy to accommodate. You could also alternatively suggest that the family club together and give an overall Christmas experience, like a trip to the pantomime.

In the meantime having simple conversations with your child about appreciating what we have can go a long way. It’s important to teach children about the value of their toys and belongings by showing appreciation, minding them, sharing them, knowing when enough is enough and being grateful.

 - Aoife Lee, Parent Coach at Parent Support.

You’re not being unreasonable. It is fair to want to have some control over what your child plays with. At his age, a few carefully selected toys are more valuable than loads of “flash in the pan” toys. The best type of toys are those that have many uses, such as blocks, or toys that encourage imagination and creative development like play food, or toys that encourage the whole family get involved, such as a football.

Obviously, your family members want to show their affection by spoiling your son, so the other alternative is to accept the gifts and put some of them away after they have been opened. You could divert them to a charity shop in January or rotate the toys through the shed. Finally, don’t forget the best toy of all: the large cardboard box the toy came in!

- Krysia Lynch, Maternity Care Expert at Krysia.ie.

You are not being unreasonable. The most valuable currency with children is time, and I personally have issued a similar instruction to some of my family for my own boys. I think in this case, it’s all in delivery of what you say. I avoid saying “don’t buy presents” and specifically say “they don’t need toys.” I then make alternative suggestions. My sister is taking my eldest (four years) on a Christmas day out as her gift. It may include food, a movie or a festive event.

Other suggestions I’ve put forward are: a swimming lesson, local farm annual pass or family pass (depending on the budget), a family pass to an aquarium or other family day out, panto tickets, children’s character concert tickets, toddler sensory class or clothes. They get to fulfill their opportunity to gift, the child receives their most valuable commodity and is therefore being “spoiled” and your house isn’t over-run with plastic! Win win!

- Deirdre Holland Hannon, Behaviour Specialist at @deehollhan.

So what’s the final tally? Is this reader being unreasonable?

Yes – 0

No – 3

Have a parenting question you want answered? Let us know anonymously in our survey here or email us on family@thejournal.ie and we’ll put it to the experts.

More: Am I being a bad parent… by always making separate meals for my picky eating son?

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