Get the latest from TODAY

Sign up for our newsletter
 / Updated 
By Amy McCready

Join Amy McCready and Faye de Muyshondt for a Facebook chat on TODAY Moms' Facebook page, starting at 11 am ET.

If your child brought an entire notebook full of ideas to Santa or you’ve heard “I want this for Christmas” more times than you can count, it’s easy to worry that your kids aren’t focused on the right aspects of the holiday season. While we want to see those smiles on their faces as they open gifts Christmas morning, we also know that it’s easy to go overboard and spoil them with every toy or gadget they’ve jotted down on the mile-long list. However, you can strike a balance between the gifts they’ve been dreaming of and the deeper meaning of Christmas with these tips:

1. Find the joy in giving. With the kids excited to receive new gifts, now is the time to have them sort through old toys and clothes and give them to charity. Volunteer and service opportunities are everywhere during the holiday season: Have your kids drop off a donation at the local food pantry, buy a doll or blocks for a toy drive or help prepare a community meal for the needy. Bake cookies for your neighbors or make cards for nursing home residents. Talk to your kids about where donations go and who will use them — make it real for your child and help them to understand the importance of helping others during the holidays and year-round.

It’s also important to make sure kids are involved from step one in gift-giving, too, according to Faye de Muyshondt, founder of socialsklz:-) and author of "socialsklz :-) for Success: How to Give Children the Skills They Need to Thrive in the Modern World." It might be easier for us to do the shopping and wrapping, but make sure your kids participate in the gifts that come from them. Take your daughter to the store with a set amount of money to pick out a gift for her brother (she’ll get a math lesson, too!) and let her wrap the gift when you get home. Not only do we empower our kids by letting them make the decision, but we’re also helping them understand the time, effort and thought that go into the gift-giving process. Not all gifts need to come from a store, either. Encourage your child to make at least one gift, such as a craft, video, song, drawing or special letter. Be sure that one of your gifts to them is also handmade.

2. Write the final chapter on the never-ending wish list. There’s nothing wrong with coming up with a wish list, but make it manageable. Give your kids a set limit or ask them to rank which gifts they’d like the most. Many families manage expectations by encouraging kids to come up with one gift wish for each of these categories:

  • Something I want
  • Something I need
  • Something to wear
  • Something to read

Remember, the more gifts your kids receive, the less special each present becomes. By creating some limits for your kids, everyone knows ahead of time what to expect, so no one feels shorted.

3. Be prepared to be graceful and grateful. The holiday season is hectic and the pressure is on our kids to behave to stay on Santa’s “nice” list. We whisk them from holiday parties to Christmas concerts to family gatherings and then feel disappointed when they don’t act the way we’d hoped. It can all be too much for kids if they don’t know what’s expected of them. Help them out ahead of time so they know how to act at the neighborhood holiday party or at Grandma’s house on Christmas Eve. Take time to practice with your kids how they can show appreciation — whether it’s for a compliment on how much they’ve grown this year or for a gift that doesn’t quite meet their tastes. Give your kids some key phrases that go beyond “thank you” that they can have ready. Help them to find something positive to say about the gift, but more importantly, about the thoughtfulness or the effort put forth. If your son gets a book he already read last year, he can say, “Thanks. I love this author. It was kind of you to think of me.” Being prepared and practicing ahead of time is important for kids to have confidence in the moment.

Let your kids know that expressing thanks doesn’t always have to be a direct response to something such as a gift. We can express our gratitude for things that are often more meaningful and when it’s least expected, says de Muyshondt. “Thank you for everything you do for me.” “Thank you for making this holiday season so special.” Don’t underestimate the value of an old-fashioned, written thank you note, either.

4. Focus on being present, not on the presents. Technology is everywhere in our kids’ lives, and when school break comes, we tend to be more lenient with screen time, especially when new gifts are involved. However, kids need to realize the importance of finding a healthy balance of tech time with face-to-face family time. De Muyshondt suggests setting up rules and guidelines ahead of time — before family arrives or before you get to Grandma’s house — so kids know the expectation of how much time they can spend online or on their phones. Ask your kids to step into the shoes of the aunts, uncles and cousins and think about how they would feel if their relatives spent most of the family get-together behind a screen.

5. Disappointment isn’t always a bad thing. Kids need to realize not everything will always go their way and they won’t always get everything they want. Kids who have everything are rarely grateful for what they do have. It’s OK for kids to feel disappointed. It’s OK for parents to say no. When we say no to some requests or when we need to enforce a household rule, we may make them upset in the short term. But in the long run, we’re helping our kids build a thankful attitude, helping them to appreciate what they have.

The holiday season can be one of the most stressful times of the year if we let it. If we take the time beforehand to prepare and let our kids know what’s expected of them, we can all experience the joy of the Christmas season.

TODAY Moms contributor Amy McCready is the founder of Positive Parenting Solutions and the author of "If I Have to Tell You One More Time…The Revolutionary Program That Gets Your Kids to Listen Without Nagging, Reminding or Yelling." Follow Amy on Twitter @AmyMcCreadyPPS