Monthly Archives: December 2016

colorful presents

Why I don’t usually give gifts on Chanukah

Someone asked me about my gift giving policy on Chanukah.  What we do is more of a position than a policy and nothing is written in stone but I’ll share what we do and why!

When we moved to Israel five years ago, we decided to deliberately shift our policy regarding presents on Chanukah.  In the US we had access to fantastic stores where we could easily find great quality gifts for our kids without spending much money.  Our kids also bought gifts for one another, which they could frugally do by shopping at thrift stores.  As a result of planning ahead and shopping wisely, gifts weren’t a financial strain at all.


Do you know how many gifts are generated by one set of parents, two sets of grandparents, and five or six siblings buying for each other?   There are only eight days of Chanukah!  And it seemed that every person was getting at least one gift on every night.  That meant a lot more stuff to store, maintain and clean up.

While for the most part the gifts were appropriate and not overdone, it still added up to too much.   I was experiencing the law of diminishing returns – the more they got, the less they appreciated what they were given.  And that made it very hard to keep the focus of Chanukah on the deeper messages of the day rather than on the presents.

We took the opportunity when we moved overseas to make a change.  No more Chanukah presents or birthday presents.  Instead the focus is on time together as a family – lighting menorahs, singing and dancing together, then spending time afterward with a family game or activity of some sort.    We strive for our Chanukah together to be simple and warm and connected, with the only thing missing is the focus on “What are you going to give me?”  (Note I said we ‘strive’ – that doesn’t mean we always accomplish it! :))

Are you wondering if my poor kids ever get any gifts at all?!?

Ds4 opening gift

Ds4 opening gift

They do!  I try to minimize consumerism and clutter, but I also enjoy getting my children presents.  If there’s something I want to buy for them, I buy it and give it to them. Whenever.  Just because.  They receive gifts and are glad to get them, but birthdays and holidays don’t become associated with “whaddya get me?”

This year I had a conflict.  I bought some Playmobile when I found them at a good price, which happened to be a week before Chanukah.  Since this was the first time buying any, I wanted to get enough to use as props for a variety of play situations.  So I bought eight small sets (each set has one figure with one main prop or several very small props – eg a policeman with a dog, a pirate with a treasure chest and some tiny rocks to go in the chest), one medium set that included a four wheeled vehicle and a larger set that included two vehicles.  Those sets were to be given to the four younger boys to share.  That doesn’t sound overwhelming, right?

My conflict was when to give them these toys.  Usually I would give them right when I bought them but it seemed silly to give them such a short time before Chanukah.  I decided I would space out the giving of these sets on Chanukah so it wouldn’t be every night, giving the largest towards the end of Chanukah and starting with the smallest sets.

The first night – we gave them three small sets – delightful!  So wide eyed, so appreciative, thanking me again and again.  Dd20 tells me how sweet they are, and it would be a shame to give them anything else.  I knew exactly what she meant.  Their eyes were sparkling.

The  next night after playing dreidel together, I decided to give one small set and the small vehicle.  They knew I was going to give them something the first night and thought it would be two of the smallest Playmobile sets – they were delighted that there were three and now couldn’t believe there was even more!  Kids are still very happy.

Night 3 – no gifts, just some chocolate coins.  Very pleasant evening.

Night 4 – one game and one small set.  While still appreciative, the energy has changed.   Observing them, dd16 suggests I shouldn’t give them the rest of the presents that I bought, saying she doesn’t see it making them more happy. I know exactly what she means because I’m thinking the same thing.

There remains one large set that I planned to give on night 6 that I considered the main present, and two small sets I planned to give on the last day, but right now I have a lot of ambivalence about proceeding with that plan. (Edited to add: I decided to give the last gifts during the day time during a relaxed time and this was a great solution!  The boys were well-rested, had time to enjoy them for hours and were very appreciative to boot. :) )

Ds10, 9 and 7 opening a gift together from dd22

Ds10, 9 and 7 opening a gift together from dd22

I haven’t found an effective way to give kids a number of gifts in a short time period, and keep the excitement and gratitude they experience from being negatively affected.  It’s pretty natural that the more kids get, the less appreciative they become and the less they enjoy their gifts.  It’s quite a balance!

Ds10, 9 and 7 playing with new toy.

Ds10, 9 and 7 enjoying new toy

I love getting my kids things I think they’ll enjoy.  I honestly have to hold myself back from buying more than I do.  Seriously.  Holding back isn’t coming from a place of deprivation or lack but because I don’t know how to give them everything I’d like to give them without them losing something very precious – the ability to deeply appreciate what they have.


Embracing Leadership in the Home: Learn to LEAD!


When you hear the word leadership, what do you think of? The head of a Fortune 500 company, the manager of your place of employment – or your own role as a parent?

Most parents have never consciously thought of themselves as leaders – they’re just trying to get through the day! Certainly when I was a young mother, defining my role as leadership opportunity never crossed my mind. However, over the years of raising my own ten children and counseling many more parents across the globe, I’ve become firmly convinced that parenting is the most significant and potentially powerful leadership role that exists!

If I had to choose one perspective when regularly practiced would be the most transformative for you as a parent and for your child’s healthy emotional development, it would be to become an effective mirror.

A mirror? Yes, a mirror! The highest form of leadership is to consistently and clearly mirror to your child his deep value and potential. On a daily basis you are holding up a mirror to your child that reflects who you believe he really is and what he is capable of – whether you realize it or not!

Your perception of your child and his actions, and your interpretation of why he does what he does are deeply powerful. When he acts out, is he manipulating you to get what he wants? Is he trying to show you who’s the boss? Has he always been a difficult kid? Or is his behavior the only way he is able to express his distress right now?

Whether your child is throwing a tantrum, refusing to clean his room or speaking disrespectfully, recognizing behavior is your child’s best attempt at communication in the moment will help you stay calm rather than respond with anger or hostility. It’s from that place of calm you can respond to him in a way that affirms his best intentions and then offer constructive correction.

It might seem irresponsible when faced with ‘bad’ behavior to respond with calm and compassion – “but he’s going to think it’s okay to keep acting like this!” is a common response that I hear.

Let me ask you to deeply consider the following: Just like you yourself, your child has a deep intrinsic desire to be loved, valued and appreciated. Kids want to be successful. Kids want your approval. Kids want to be socially appropriate. There’s not a child anywhere that craves being yelled at, being treated with distance, distain or distrust.

When your child is acting in a way that challenges you, it’s the time to LEAD!  LEAD is my four step approach to effective problem solving:

L – listen – truly listen to his perspective.
E – empathize – show him you understand his perspective
A – affirm – let him know how much you appreciate him and his good intentions
D – discuss/direct – you can now discuss a better alternative and direct him accordingly

My LEAD strategy can be used effectively with children of all ages (spouses, too!). Some situations allow for a parent to move through these steps so quickly that it’s almost instantaneous. Other times it requires more time and patience to ensure the concerns of both the child and parent are addressed.

Let’s say your teenage daughter is dressing in a manner you find inappropriate. You have a few choices:

Choice #1 is to tell her, “No daughter of mine is walking out of the door looking like that! Go change that skirt right now!” She may change her skirt – but how likely is she to dress appropriately when you’re not around to police her? Will she feel understood, valued and respected? If not, it’s not a good choice.

Choice #2 is to overlook it and either put aside your expectations completely or hope that she’ll eventually choose to wear clothing that you approve of. If this is a serious concern of yours, resentment and frustration are likely to build within in you since your feelings aren’t being taken into account. Has this choice given you a chance to be understood, valued and respected? If not, it’s not a good choice.

Choice #3 is to LEAD. Talk to your daughter and give her a chance to honestly express why she’s choosing to wear this clothing. Make the effort to understand the situation through her eyes, to truly listen. Maybe she shares that that this is what everyone else is wearing and she doesn’t want to be different.

After getting clarity on where she’s coming from – you empathize. “It’s really hard when you want to be part of the crowd not to do what they’re doing.”

You can then let her know you appreciate her honesty in communicating with you and affirm her good intentions. “I really appreciate your honesty and willingness to discuss this with me.”

At this point you can now share your concerns and discuss a solution that will work for both of you. “I hear how important it is for you to look like everyone else. My concern is that when you dress like this, you’re conveying a message that you might not be trying to send. I’m wondering if we can brainstorm together and find a way you can look fashionable that accurately reflects the person you are inside.”

This conversation can generate a suprising range of possible solutions that often can’t be predicted before having the courage to hear your daughter and take her needs into account – and having the courage to honestly share your own position.

The solutions may include compromises on both of your parts on what is acceptable, one of you coming to agree completely with the other, your daughter requesting sewing lessons to create her own clothing, or finding a fashion buddy to go shopping with her. Or it may lead to further discussion about who her peer group actually is and finding there’s a deeper issue that is only peripherally about clothing. Maybe there’s a deep insecurity or anger that is being expressed by her clothing choice. It’s critical to understand that effective solutions flow from accurately understanding the issue and a different response on her part would entail a completely different set of solutions.

Learning to LEAD  gives you the power to parent with love and appreciation of who your child is, and to be a positive mirror of him even in tough moments. When you believe that your child’s core is precious and good, when you address the reasons for misbehavior with unconditional love and appropriate redirection, you are letting him know that he is deeply loved, valued and appreciated.

It’s not easy to shift from a behavior management focus to a leadership approach. True leadership supports your child in uncovering and becoming the unique and special person he was meant to be, and is more effective, freeing and joyful for the entire family than behavior management could ever be. Take the time to learn to LEAD – it will transform your family!