In many homes, our kids have such tightly-packed schedules – everything from private lessons to camps to therapy sessions to sports – that parents are using computers and Palm Pilots to schedule their children’s activities. Little time exists for families to eat meals together, to play board games, to sit around and talk after dinner, to go for walks or to do all the things that used to be part of being a family.

In such an environment, it’s difficult to pass on our values to our children. Sharing values takes repeated interactions over many years, and many families don’t take time for this repetition. Kids develop their own values, influenced by their peers and the media. Since the advertising industry spends over $26 billion dollars a year marketing to kids under age 18, it should come as no surprise that our kids’ values often are focused on shopping and consuming.

Here are some ideas for this holiday season that you can do with your children and share with them the vitally important concept that there are more things to do in life than shopping and consuming:

    • Take a family trip instead of exchanging gifts.
    • Do a family community project, like sponsoring a family in need and providing gifts and food for them.
    • Play family games.
    • Volunteer as a family at the local shelter and help serve the holiday meal.
    • Help your children give handcrafted gifts and make handcrafted decorations. You can help them write a card, paint a picture, mount a photo, bake some cookies. Check out books from the library or search the Internet for homemade gift ideas and homemade decorations.
    • Assist your kids in using one of the free Internet greeting card sites to send free greetings to their friends and relatives.
    • Check the newspapers for free church or synagogue programs, musicals or community events. Go as a family. Look at holiday lights as a family. Rent a favorite holiday movie and watch it as a family.
    • Suggest that your children make a gift of their services to those on their gift list, like free babysitting, housecleaning, cooking or just a walk in the park.
  • Use a digital camera and the printer to create a family tree photo collage for the grandparents. Or have the kids write stories or draw pictures or do a home made video of them talking about the most meaningful experiences or the most important lessons they learned from the grandparents.

And last but certainly not least, remember that your kids really want your presence far more than they want presents. Give them your time and attention. Give each child a gift certificate redeemable for a full day of your undivided time. Maybe even take a day off from work and coordinate with their teacher so that you can take them out of school for a day for a trip to the zoo or a museum. Do it as a family. Give them the best presents of all: your presence.

Eileen Gallo, Ph.D., and Jon Gallo, J.D. are experts on children, families and money and authors of The Financially Intelligent Parent: 8 Steps to Raising Successful, Generous, Responsible Children. Their parenting tips and tools can be found at