A young girl wears a Santa hat and appears to be writing a list in front of a Christmas tree.
Help your children learn what’s most important during this season of giving. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Once, long ago, we never talked about Santa before the Thanksgiving turkey. But those days are long gone.

Today, it seems retailers start earlier than ever with commercials, advertisements and gift catalogs.

Adelle Cadieux, PsyD, a psychologist at Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, noted that many companies are now targeting children instead of their parents, urging the kids to add the newest toys to that lengthy letter to Santa.

This reinforces the notion that the holidays are a great time to teach children we don’t always get everything we want, and that sometimes it’s not ‘stuff’ that makes the holidays great.

“These are lessons that children can use throughout their life,” Dr. Cadieux said.

Dr. Cadieux offers parents these tips for the gift-giving season:

1. Set expectations

Ask your children to make a separate list of needs and wants and use this opportunity to teach them the difference. Explain that they may not get everything on their list—and may get items they didn’t ask for.

2. Look at advertisements with your children

When the catalogs arrive in the mail and the commercials come on TV, sit with your child and talk about the product. Ask questions like “do you think that toy can really do what the commercial says?” Use examples of their own toys that may have fallen short of expectations.

3. Choose the top five to 10 items on the list

Children can write a very long list for Santa. Review the list with your kids and help them narrow it down to the five to 10 gifts they truly want.

4. Choose a toy to give to another child

Having your child choose and donate a toy they like helps them connect with the reason for the season. Good choices include the Angel Tree, Toys for Tots, Salvation Army and other local organizations.

5. Encourage children to make gifts for others

Creating a gift for someone else gives children a sense of pride in making their gift instead of focusing on what it cost.