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Experiencing Present Overload? Fa-la-la-low the '4-Gift Rule'

November 30th, 2017     By Boys Town Contributor

Early Childhood, Teens, Today's Family, Toddlers

​​​In the run-up to Christmas, amid all the holiday sales and marketing messages that scream, "Buy! Buy! Buy!," it's easy for parents to go a little crazy trying to fill that empty space under the tree with lots of presents for their kids.

For parents with younger children, the tendency is to go big on toys. Commercials for the latest in dolls, action figures, games and anything electronic dominate Saturday morning TV programs for kids and every major retail outlet devotes endless pages to all things kid-fun in their sales flyers.

For larger families, especially those whose kids who range from toddlers to teens, it also can get mighty expensive by the time you've played Santa for the younger ones and tried to fulfill the older ones' Christmas wish list.

But overdoing it with gifts is not always a good thing at Christmastime. As much as we want our kids to be happy and have cherished holiday memories, giving too many gifts or trying to make sure your child gets everything he or she wants can create a situation where no gift is special and all the new stuff ends up in the corner, ignored, after a few hours.

If you find yourself in this Christmas gift dilemma, you might consider the 4-Gift Rule. The Rule, which has been popular in social media for a few years, proposes buying your children no more than four total gifts for Christmas, one each in the following areas:

  • Something they want
  • Something they need
  • Something to wear
  • Something to read

Here are some examples for using the Rule with different age groups:


  • Something they want: A toy, like a play kitchen or play tool bench.
  • Something they need: If they're ready, a big boy or big girl bed with neat sheets. Or open an investment account to start saving for college.
  • Something to wear: Fun "dress up" clothes or items they've outgrown.
  • Something to read: Any interactive book, one with flaps that open or shut or buttons that activate animal noises.

School-Aged Children

  • Something they want: A new bike or push scooter.
  • Something they need: A musical instrument they've shown interest in.
  • Something to wear: A special pair of shoes you swore you'd never buy.
  • Something to read: A series of books they can enjoy during their winter break or over the next summer.


  • Something they want: A new cell phone (to be used with your guidelines).
  • Something they need: A tablet or laptop for schoolwork.
  • Something to wear: A gift card to their favorite clothing store.
  • Something to read: A subscription (printed or online) to a magazine about a hobby they like or a career they'd like to pursue.

It's always tempting to go over the top and make Christmas all about how many gifts you give your kids. But by following the 4-Gift Rule, you can stay within your budget, focus more on doing fun things together as a family and still ensure a happy holiday for your kids.

If you decide not to give as many gifts as you have in past years, don't be surprised if your kids are a little disappointed and maybe a little sad first. This the perfect opportunity to encourage them to be thankful for what they received, to be ​appreciative of the gift givers and to help them understand that the most important part of Christmas is being together and celebrating as a family.

Eventually, they'll realize this is most precious gift you could ever give them.​

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