Q&A: To Gift Or Not To Gift? Scaling Back During the Holidays

 ADHD Weekly 2016-12-08

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Question: In our extended family, we celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah. This year, these holidays fall at the same time—which will mean a lot of presents for our children and their cousins!

We’d like to simplify our holidays, partly because we see our children becoming overwhelmed by all the toys and gifts. With their symptoms of impulsivity and hyperactivity, it’s no longer a special time—just a sudden commotion that ends with no one, children or adults, feeling very festive. How can we cut back on gift giving and still make this a special time?

Burned out holiday dad

Answer: Feeling burned out is not how anyone wants to spend the holiday season. Many families just like yours are looking at how to scale back or end gift giving and instead focus on meaningful holiday traditions for their children. In families affected by ADHD, creating traditions that take into account the needs of children and adults who are easily overwhelmed or over-stimulated or have issues with impulsivity and distractibility is important for everyone to have a joyous time.

By shifting the focus from gift giving to spending valuable time with family and friends, you can regain some of the magic of the holidays. Often the planning and conversation begin earlier, around Thanksgiving, or now during the beginning of December.

Talk with your children about the activities and traditions that have value for them. Bring them into the decision so they will feel a part of the planning and can be more enthusiastic about the activities you choose as a family. The most important thing is to always find and do what is best for your family.

Things for parents, children, and extended family to decide ahead of time:

  • Will we limit the number of gifts given?
  • How many gifts? Will they be store-bought or homemade?
  • What is the budget for gifts? How can we encourage creativity within that budget?

Many families are adopting the rule of three gifts per person:

  • Something to wear
  • Something to read
  • Something for fun

There are families that have decided the flurry of gift-giving isn’t their best option and have looked for other ways that make the season meaningful. Some ideas for holidays without gifts include:


  • Help children pick out donations for children’s toy programs or hospitals
  • Volunteer at a community kitchen to serve meals
  • Plan family vacations or day trips during the holiday season
  • Go on a seasonal picnic at a local park or take a family sledding trip
  • Exchange gift cards for experiences, such as passes to the zoo or lessons for a favorite activity
  • Take part in traditional activities, such as decorating Christmas trees or lighting the Menorah together, complete with festive singing
  • Bake family treats to share
  • Go caroling together with neighbors or friends, followed by warm beverages, snacks, or cookies
  • Visit family members or local care facilities to play board games
  • Team up with other families for a holiday scavenger hunt followed by a winter party
  • Plan special quiet nights with good books or holiday-themed movies for just you and your children


The holidays are a time for celebration, and you and your family do not have to participate in any activity that will bring you stress or unhappiness that may dampen your family’s celebrations. When you scale back, either gifts or activities, you create more room to enjoy being together as a family.

Do you have a question related to ADHD? You can call our Health Information Specialists Monday through Friday, 1-5 p.m. ET, at 866-200-8098 or ask your question on Attention Connection Questions & Answers for feedback from our community.

What suggestions do you have for families to make the holiday season special? Share them now.