Alternative Christmas Gifts for Kids

Alternative Christmas Gifts for KidsThree years ago I said enough.  I decided to find a way to to bring back the spirit of giving during the holidays so I started looking for alternative Christmas gifts for the kids in my life (Yes, I’m that uncle).  This was especially important to me as my own daughter started to grow older.  So, I set out on a journey of discovery.

Teaching Values with Alternative Christmas Gifts for Kids

What values do I want to teach to my daughter, nieces and nephews?  This was easy.  I wanted to teach them the joy of giving. As an adult, I know that it is better to give than to receive.  On Christmas morning, I am happiest passing out the Christmas gifts and watching everyone open their gifts.  I asked myself, “How do I show my daughter, nieces and nephews the joy of giving.”  I had a direction and now it was time to set a goal.

If you read my article on how to set SMART goals, you know that “teach the joy of giving” is not a SMART goal.  I had to be careful that the kids would not just give something to one of their friends who also had a lot.  I want to teach them the joy of giving to the less fortunate.  So, I revised my goal to, I want to help my nieces and nephews learn the joy of helping the less fortunate by giving them the opportunity to help others this Christmas.  

The Wrong Approach to Alternative Christmas Gifts for Kids

In teaching kids the joy of helping others in need, the kids need to be part of the process from start to finish.  Keep in mind that it is not your job to make the decisions for the kids.  You need to devise a way for each kid to decide who they are going to help and how it will be done.  So don’t go buying a goat in their name or making a donation in their name.  This teaches the kids nothing and they will likely be a little miffed at you.

Alternative Christmas Gifts for Younger Kids

It is tough to teach the joy of helping those in need to young kids (ages 3-10).  In most cases, younger kids have not been exposed to the sadness and strife of the world.  At school, the kids are typically from similar socioeconomic backgrounds and they all look the same.  Yes, there are going to be some kids that don’t have the best clothes or the newest toys, but your children are probably not going to school (or know they are) with a child who is homeless.

To start, you need to get the younger kids’ parents involved when switching to alternative Christmas Gifts.   I tried this out for the first time last year.  I called the parents of each of my nieces and nephews and explained to them that I was going to send them a check but leave the Pay To: line blank.  I asked if they could help their kids figure out how to use the money to help someone less fortunate.  I offered  ideas that they could buy a toy and donate it to Toys for Tots, they could use the money to sponsor a family, or they could make it out to a local charity.  The one requirement was that they had to make sure the kids were involved in the entire process.  The parents loved it – the kids I’m not so sure about.  This caused me to modify my approach and below my new step by step plan.

  1. Call the child’s parents and explain the plan. The child should buy himself a gift and a gift for a child in need.
  2. Determine the dollar amount that you are going to budget for each child – let’s say $30.
  3. Cut that dollar amount in half – $15
  4. Write Two checks (or buy to gift cards) – $15 each
  5. Make one check out to the child and leave the other blank.
  6. Send a letter and the checks, addressed to the child, explaining that you want him or her to help someone in need.
  7. Make sure the child shops for the gift or decides how to use the money.
  8. Ask them to call you back and tell you what they did.
The above approach involves the child from the beginning.  The child feels like she is being treated as an adult because they get a letter in the mail, they get to make decisions and best of all, they get to call you and tell you what they did.

Alternative Christmas Gifts for Older Kids

Older kids (ages 10 and over) are a bit different because they are exposed to the needs of the world and are set in their ways.  There are some minor changes you want to make to the plan above.  I recommend a first-year approach followed up by the long-term approach.

First Year Alternative Christmas Gifts with Older Kids

  1. Call the child and explain the plan.
  2. Ask the child to research what they want to do with the money.
  3. Determine the dollar amount that you are going to budget for each child – let’s say $30.
  4. Cut that dollar amount in half – $15
  5. Buy two Visa Gift Cards – $15 each
  6. Write the child’s name on one card and write for someone in need on the other card.
  7. Send a letter, addressed to the child, reiterating that you want him or her to help someone in need.
  8. Make sure the child is the decision maker on what to buy or how to use the money.
  9. Ask them to text you back and tell you what they did.

Long-Term Approach to Alternative Christmas Gifts with Older Kids

After the first year, follow these steps below:

  1. Call the child and explain the plan.
  2. Ask the child to research what they want to do with the money.
  3. Determine the dollar amount that you are going to budget for each child – let’s say $30.
  4. Buy one Visa Gift Card – $30
  5. Send a letter, addressed to the child, reiterating that you want him or her to help someone in need.
  6. Make sure the child is the decision maker on what to buy or how to use the money.
  7. Ask them to text you back and tell you what they did.
I’ve found that the older kids really get into this or they don’t.  There is really not much middle ground.  The reason that I suggest buying Visa Gift cards is this makes the kids feel more grown up.  Unlike a store gift card, the Visa gift card does not limit their choices.  They can even go online and make a charitable donation.

Share the Feedback

Last year when I did this with my family, I was delighted with the results.  One niece made a charitable donation to a botanical garden.  My nephew bought a toy for Toys for Tots.  I even included my parents and while walking by a Salvation Army bell ringer, they stopped, wrote the Salvation Army in the To: line and dropped the check in the bucket.

Have you ever tried to gift outside the box?  What was your experience like?  Share your experience in the comments below.

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