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It’s understandable that children want presents, but adults don’t need to regard their lists as a kind of holy writ.

Toni Halgas, a therapist and licensed clinical social worker with Franciscan Alliance in Crown Point, suggests you ask yourself, “Why am I feeding this frenzy of ‘I’ve got to get this present?' Am I doing it to teach them happiness is a toy that breaks in 10 minutes? Am I trying to appease my child? Be the better parent? Be the favorite parent?”

“Stop setting your children up to have unrealistic expectations—just as you may be doing,” adds the Rev. Peter Speckhard, pastor at St. Paul's Lutheran Church/School in Munster.

Deb Reason, a licensed clinical social worker with Samaritan Counseling Center in Michigan City and LaPorte, notes that even adults see things they want. “And when it's for your child, the pull is even stronger," she says.

So it's important to set an example. If a parent is looking at a top-model car that may be out of the family budget and trying to adjust other spending to accommodate it, they're modeling that thinking to the children, Reason says. 

Kids also have no concept of money, she adds: "They see the plastic doll house, and it costs $154. If finances don’t allow that kind of spending, tell the children, ‘Yes that is cool,’ and validate that, but then say, ‘We’ll see, but we can’t always have all what we want.’ "

Reason says family experiences make great gifts, creating memories that last longer than most toys. Parents can put money ordinarily spent on a lot of gifts toward a family getaway, from a week at a ski lodge to a day trip to Chicago or Michigan: “They’ll always remember those family times together.”

Memberships to a zoo, book clubs, magazines and such offer experiences throughout the year. And then there are the free things to do together: “Churches have beautiful concerts, communities have lights displays, libraries show free films.”

Halgas recommends taking time to just sit with children with popcorn and hot chocolate and read stories, “a bonding time, not just a getting a gift time.”

It’s also important to refocus some desire for presents to giving to others, Reason says: “It doesn’t mean they won’t want that stuff, but they can learn to see what else is important, too.”

Teaching children to help others gives them a sense of things that are larger than themselves, says Reason, and there are many ways to do that.

With her family, Theresa Flamini of St. John formed the Flamini Foundation, which each Christmas donates gift bags of toys for children in Northwest Indiana hospitals and comfort care packages for their parents. The foundation has drawn sponsorship from area organizations. This year it includes the Adventure Club, a before- and after-care program at area schools, where students are running a toy drive to help the Flamini Foundation.

Flamini says her grandchildren are eager to help. Her daughter-in-law, Dana Flamini, told her: “The only thing on their minds were gifts for the kids in the hospital and for the Ronald McDonald House.”