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Self-Improvement & Hobbies

It's the thought that counts

Kids learn to give and share by donating their Christmas presents.
December 4, 2012
By: Eve Yap
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It's the thought that counts Siblings (from left) Dawn, Joan and Luke give away about half of around 10 presents they receive at Christmas each year, a move aimed at teaching them to look out for others, says their mother Christine Ting (right).

In the Ang household, the children give away some of the presents they receive.

Every Christmas, Luke, 13, Joan, 11, and Dawn, six, keep only four or five out of about 10 presents each receives from family and friends, says their mother Christine Ting.

It is a tradition that Ms Ting and her husband James Ang, both 45, started when Luke was two. She is a senior executive for corporate services at headhunters The GMP Group, while Mr Ang is a church worker.

'Teaching them to give and share helps to shift the focus from self to others. We want them to look out for those who cannot help themselves,' says Ms Ting, who lives with her family in a five-room HDB flat in Bukit Panjang.

The gifts are donated to charities here and abroad.

Dawn, who keeps her 'girly' gifts such as a Barbie doll or a princess tiara and gives away stationery and puzzles, admits: 'I feel sad for every present I give away. But never mind, let other people have it. I already have a lot of toys.'

For many kids, ‘tis the season to be asking, as parents gear up for Yuletide shopping.

Apart from sharing bounty, families SundayLife! spoke to say they manage children’s expectations by setting limits according to budget or behaviour.

Technician Fredrick Goh, 38, has drilled into his three children that 'we are not well-to-do' and they cannot make demands, no matter what their peers get.

Comparisons began about three years ago, when his oldest child Kirsten was 11.

He and his administration executive wife Rachel, 43, have two other children - Theophilus, 12, and Thaddeus, 10. They live in a four-room HDB flat in Woodlands.

Mr Goh says: 'They say their friends get MP3 players, PlayStation and Xbox sets, and the latest smartphones. Those they don't get.'

What they have been getting from young are gifts worth about $50, adds Mr Goh. For instance, Nerf guns for the boys and headphones for Kirsten last year.

If they insist on comparing with the Joneses?

He says: 'I scold them and say, 'You don’t need this gadget to survive. It is a bonus if you have it. If not, be thankful for what you have.''

Managing a child's expectations is crucial given that children today have a 'wishlist that is never ending', advises Ms Chow Keat Yeng, principal of Artistic Expressions, a drama school.

To prevent unhappy faces, state upfront that parents reserve the right to keep or cancel items, budget permitting, says Ms Chow, 32.

'Sometimes, I hear the children exclaiming, 'If you’re going to cancel, why ask me in the first place?' The parents get angry and a squabble ensues,' she notes.

Teach them to mind their Ps and Qs of receiving presents too, says Ms Chow, recalling her fifth birthday party.

'I ripped open the presents in front of the uncles and aunties without even thanking them,' says Ms Chow, adding that she was caned after the party.

In fact, parents should emphasise the 'why' of a gift too, says Ms Poon Siew-Win, director of Mindmatters Psychology Practice. 'If  parents emphasise the thought of the gift and giving, then the children will also focus on that rather than the gift itself,' she says.

Artist and art teacher Erin Caskey, 32, picks out presents for her six nieces and nephews with her only child Aedan, 51/2.

'I'll pre-select two and he picks one of them. He's happy when we give them the presents,' says Ms Caskey, an American who is now a Singapore permanent resident.

She lives with her husband Rodney Pereira, 42, in a five-room HDB flat in Pasir Ris.

Theirs is a single- income household because Mr Pereira cannot work after a spinal injury. So she caps Aedan's gifts at about $25. He usually gets two books and a “small toy” worth about $5.

But even if they could afford it, they would not splurge. 'It's more important for him to learn that Christmas is about time with family, sharing the love with loved ones,' she says.

Parents can also temper children's expectations of gifts by pegging them to behaviour, says Dr Carol Balhetchet, director of youth services (Toa Payoh) of the Singapore Children’s Society.

Growing up, her three children, now aged 29 to 16, knew that they would be assessed by a good and bad behaviour list she stuck on the refrigerator, although she has not had to invoke the latter list.

For instance, failing an examination or hanging out late, says Dr Balhetchet, falls under the 'bad' category.

This is what account manager Bernard Kwong and his wife Josephine Koh, founder of frozen wholesome meals supplier Petit Bowl, both 34, do. They work out a budget after toting up incomes and expenses.

Mr Kwong then sits the children in the living room by early December and tells them the amount to be shared based on 'merit' - attitude and behaviour.

'For example, if they put off homework till the last thing at night or ask grandparents to buy track shoes or a skate scooter when out with them to the mall, those things affect the value of presents,' says Mr Kwong.

Currently, the gift kitty is shared among the three older children - Joshua, 10, Isaac, eight, and Talia, four.

Two-month-old Hanniel will join the pool when he is older.

Last year, the budget was $250 and they spent about $210.

Out of that, the boys pooled together to get items such as a Nerf gun, a lightsabre, Beyblades and figurines of Emperor Palpatine, Han Solo and the Rebel Commander. Talia got a kitchen set.

This year, the three children will get $55 each or a total of $165. That is after deducting higher expenses for the year and some money channelled to the boys' savings for good grades this year.

The couple started this practice two years ago when the two older boys went to primary school.

"At their age, the challenge is not just about giving but also a question of disciplining them," explains Mr Kwong.

In the San family, young Olivia tries to manage her own expectations.

Because her birthday falls on Dec 27, mum Sally Lee, director for strategic marketing and customer analytics at NTUC Link, tells family and close friends to give her one combined gift.

Olivia does get a hongbao from her and her husband, chief financial officer Christopher San, 47, and her grandparents for her birthday.

The couple have an older son Justin, 10. Home is an apartment in an Upper Bukit Timah Road condominium.

"In fact, she usually just has the log cake for her birthday cake too," says Ms Lee, 46, with a laugh.

The seven-year-old girl is not amused. "I open my presents on Boxing Day. On my birthday, there are no more presents," she says, miffed.

Two years ago, Olivia looked so downcast that Ms Lee, feeling bad, asked her how she wanted to be compensated.

She recalls Olivia, then five, saying: "It's hard to fight with baby Jesus. I'll have to get used to it."


Be upfront

Tell children clearly and ahead of time what the budget is, how many items they may have on their wishlist and that mummy or daddy has the final say.

Teach whys and hows

Focus on the thought behind the gift and not just the gift itself. Stress that they must say "thank you" for a present before ripping it open.

Teach children not to covet

Tell children that for everyone who seems to have a "better" present, there is someone else who does not have anything.


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