sealPurdue News

November 6, 2002

Expert says giving can be a part of every child's holiday

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Whether it's trying to please children by buying every toy on their Christmas wish list or explaining the role of Santa Claus, a Purdue University child development expert says it's important to keep the spirit of giving a priority this holiday season.

"Start with the giving, not the getting," says Judith Myers-Walls. "I think kids need to be prepared to accept surprises, and parents should not feel obligated to provide everything or only the items the kids have said they want."

Often the thoughts of getting presents originate with Santa Claus, but Myers-Walls says there are ways to include Santa in the holiday season without focusing on what gifts he leaves under the Christmas tree.

"Talk about the real St. Nicholas and focus on his generosity. This also will provide a good opportunity to talk about the history of the holidays with your children," Myers-Walls says. "But don't use Santa as a threat to make children behave."

The way other adults handle Santa Claus also can have an affect on a child's perception of what's important – getting or giving.

"Very often in social settings we ask kids, 'What do you want Santa to bring you?' or 'What did Santa bring you?'" Myers-Walls says. "First, we should not assume all families believe in Santa. Second, we should not focus on the getting. Ask the child, 'What kind of Christmas gifts did you get someone?' or 'What did you do with your family over the holidays?'"

Myers-Walls also says it's important for children to have some idea that family members, and not Santa Claus, are giving many of the gifts they receive.

When it comes to meeting the demands of children who have wish lists that exceed family budgets, Myers-Walls suggests that parents tap their creativity.

"Prop boxes are a great idea," Myers-Walls says. "Collect stuff around the house or buy inexpensive items that have a theme. Create a beauty shop box, complete with rollers, a broken hair dryer, kids' nail polish and hair ribbons. But leave out real scissors. Or create a rescue worker box with short lengths of rope, bandages, an old sheet and a flashlight. Use your creativity to come up with other ideas."

Once again, some of the toys children are wishing for tend to follow the political climate.

A year ago Myers-Walls was talking about how children and their parents were more interested in peaceful toys after Sept. 11. Now, with talk of war, toy trends have shifted to military and other aggressive toys.

Myers-Walls, co-author of "Young Peacemakers Project Book" and "Peace Works," says violent toys can promote aggression and competitiveness that can be hard to control.

"Children tend to take unreasonable chances when playing with aggressive toys," she says.

Parents also should think about toy safety to ensure Christmas morning is filled with pleasant memories. Myers-Walls says parents can conduct their own safety tests for toys at home with a 35-millimeter film canister. Any toy or toy part that fits in the canister can be a choking hazard for young children.

"When buying a gift for a child, think about younger siblings in the house," she says.

Myers-Walls also warns that handmade or imported gifts pose some safety concerns. Often these gifts, which may be purchased at a craft show or made by a family member, have not been tested and may not be in compliance with federal regulations. These items also may not have lead-free paint, or be safe for children of all ages.

Writer: Amy Patterson-Neubert, (765) 494-9723,

Source: Judith Myers-Walls, (765) 494-2959,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

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