Stop Asking my Kids "What Do You Want to Get for Christmas"

by - Tuesday, November 14, 2017

picture from amazing and wonderful jenny gg who clearly knows how to talk to kiddos

This week at the store, the person checking us out asked my son what he wanted for Christmas. I think that he said something about Santa coming.  It bugged me, but I couldn't figure out why.

The most annoying part of this question is how often we hear it. It comes up all the time, from family, from neighbors, and even from people we don't know. Santa is a scapegoat, but people cannot stop asking.

 It is used as an ice breaker with little kids all the time, even if they don't have much answer to the question (he just told everyone at checkout about lightning mcqueen wrapping paper).

Honestly, it's a terrible question. 

Why do people think this is an interesting thing to ask?

First and foremost, assuming a family's culture includes Christmas and Santa Claus is just not right. Even our WASP-y kids could be practicing another religion. Just assuming someone is celebrating Christmas (or that they can afford for Santa to come) doesn't make much sense.

I don't want my kids to build a deep mental link between celebrating and getting stuff. I don't think getting things or having things is an accomplishment. In fact, I think our society of debt is based on this pressure to look like we have things, because that is what success means. I don't think these are useful values for my kids. My goal as a parent is that they have less and do more.

Even if you aren't out to live a more minimalist lifestyle, you still have to see there is something screwed up by constantly asking kids what they want to receive. As if they are passive vessels to pour toys into instead of interesting people who are already doing activities, thinking about the world (not just the toys in it), and planning adventures. They have more interesting things to tell you, and the constant question just minimizes them.

So just stop. Please stop. Stop. Seriously, it's so easy. Just stop.

Kids are Just People

On some level I get it, talking to children can be uncomfortable for adults to talk to, and it feels like an easy question. Kids want things, right? We remember being excited about gifts when we were kids, right?

I hate to tell you, but the question sucks. It just perpetuates a constant lie to kids that the most interesting or valuable thing about a person is what they have. This lie is destructive, and it follow us through our lives.

It's why the rich kids and the popular kids are basically synonymous in middle school. It's why people go into crippling debt for the big house filled with stuff they don't need. It's why we keep buying that outfit or car or that lipstick or whatever the thing is that will finally feel whole. It's a lie we know is a lie (how many people do you love because of what they own?), but we strive and stress about it constantly anyway.

And the lie costs us in all sorts of ways. It fills our life with monetary concerns that don't matter so we can buy MORE STUFF. It encourages us to seek the best deal so we can get MORE STUFF. The search for cheap and easy STUFF means less ethical making, terrible for the environment (pollution, plastic, pointless shipping distances), for other people (mistreatment and violence in labor, unsafe work conditions, no living wages), and for ourselves (wasting our time, our money, and hurting our health).

Why not give our kids the gift of not saddling them with this lie? By refraining from talking about gifts and asking questions about who they are instead, you can learn more AND they don't get the message Christmas is all about packages under the tree. We love to talk about the "reason for the season" but are we really modeling that with our behavior?

It may be uncomfortable to break the habit, but there are so many other questions to ask. So many. Here are a few to try, and see what works-

Are you excited for Christmas?
What are you most excited to do this Christmas?
What traditions does your family have for Christmas? What makes Christmas in your family special?
Have you made holiday cookies? Do you help?
Do you like listening to Christmas music? What is your favorite Christmas song? Do you like to sing them?
What gift are you excited about giving this year?

This could go on and on. Start by asking them about something in their hand or what they are doing at that moment. If you can bring in the holidays, you can, but shake off your old default and think about what kinds of questions you like people to ask you.

Ok, ok, but what if you actually want to buy a present for this child and need to get a sense of what they want? You need information!

Two Steps 

1. Ask their parents what they want/ need. Parents usually know what they are into.

2. Talk to the kid about what they like to do. No, not what they want. Remember our active verb rule. What is your favorite book to read? What's your favorite part of school?Do you like to draw? To play outside? Etc. Then just keep asking questions, much like you are just talking to another human (but smaller). It takes about 3 minutes with my son before you know he likes to color (especially blue, green, and purple), anything with wheels (ugh, trains), and being with his buddies. Kids are DYING for someone to just listen to them- that's probably the best gift you can give them.

3. Combine information and kick that gift's ass. Kid needs socks, loves talking dinosaurs? Dinosaur socks. Or get practical socks and some "tools" and make them a paleontology set all their own.

Still need inspiration? Check this blog! I have lots of gift ideas that aren't just the same old toys.

So what if we stopped asked kids what they wanted to get and started asking them what they want to do? It seems like a little change, but we need to turn our focus away from what we have and buy- it won't make us happy, and it won't make our kids happy. Instead, let's focus on what we want to do. It's more interesting. It's more revealing. It makes Christmas into a different kind of holiday. It creates real connections. It steps away fro this constant consumer cycle of wanting, getting, wanting, getting on forever. That is a real gift to our children.

You May Also Like


  1. I love this. That question has always bugged me too.

  2. As an wanna-be minimalist, this is the toughest part of my struggle. I agree with teaching our kids about less is more and encouraging them to DO more. I've downsized my kids' toys numerous times (with their help) and I teach them in everyday life that doing things is much more fun than owning things. But Christmas was such a magical time for me as a kid because of the family and presents. As a kid, I wasn't thinking about how to live a fuller life and not be consumed by materialism, I was just a kid. Part of me doesn't want to take that magic away, even if it is as fake as Santa. They are only little once. As they get older, I think the constant downsizing and questioning their need for toys and things will eventually spread to Christmas where I won't have to worry taking away the magic.

  3. That's so true, it is Celebration and not about getting something all the time, more so from the Santa. It is a time that we ensure kids learn the minimalistic way and get creative with the existing things!

  4. it is important to remember the true meaning of christmas and have a good balance between gifts and remembering the values we are taught at this time.

  5. Alternative questions:
    -What is your favorite book right now?
    -What games do you like to play?

    ...any others? Something simple, that would apply to most kids?

  6. I agree. Christmas was my favorite holiday because we got together with my cousins that I didn't see very often.

    Other questions that people ask kindergarteners that I think are terrible:

    What do you want to be when you grow up?

    Do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend?



Get Our Latest Posts Via Email - It's Free

Enter your email address: