Getting is an important part of our holiday tradition, too, even though most of us over age 18 naturally subscribe to the insight that, “We get far more when giving than when getting gifts.” Children feel differently, of course; when you’re young, holidays and celebrations are all about the getting. Part innocence, part their time and space, part their developmental stage (it’s normal for preschoolers to believe everything is about them); the recipe for being a child includes wanting more toys. But using Santa (or his elves) as a behavioral tool is never going to work. Naughty or nice is a total hoax.

Our maturation from focusing on getting to focusing on giving is the sustenance in this cycle. All in balance, most of us seem to want less material goods as we grow old. Wisdom, aging, or idiocy–you decide. As I age, my Christmas list has started to sound more and more like my mother’s :”time with my children,” towels for the bathroom, and appliances for the kitchen. It all used to sound so lame. Is it my simple understanding of the bank account, the distillation of my limited free time, or something else? Like most, no longer does gift receiving highlight my holiday; what I like most about this time of year is the ultimate sense of anticipation and the giving. As one friend recently said, “It’s hard not to want to spoil your kids.” It’s just so fun to give them things they like and want.

We had a joyous Christmas. I mean really, it was joyous. Not holiday-cardy-and-manicured, but full of joy-connection-song-time (away from computers). Toys were there, too. When the boys saw Santa earlier this month (enter photo) Santa asked O, “Do you want any toys for Christmas?” O (age 2) naturally said, “NO!” to the stranger in a large red suit. However, after he heard F’s list unfold, he locked in on a train. For the boys, the best part of the holiday may have been Santa’s delivery of Henry (the train). But part of me is apt to say it may have been the 4 days of uninterrupted time our boys had with each other, ourselves, their grandparents, their uncles, and their cousins. Or maybe the altered schedule. With a tree in our home, some elves in the corners, travel to California, and all sorts of fractured routines, something has been a-buzz since Thanksgiving. And the boys have been delighted for these blips in the landscape of life.

Although they’ve been delighted, it doesn’t mean that our moments have been all delightful. No way. The stress of the holidays is evident in us all (more on that later this week). Sharing issues (AKA fighting over toys) have been at their peak in our home. I’ve had to police the struggles more than I’d like.

In December, I spent a good deal of time thinking about discipline. Everyone else was talking about it as well. It’s Christmas time so the “threat” of Santa’s naughty or nice list and the reporting-to-Santa that our Elf on the Shelf was purportedly capable of, was circling in my head. I even ended up talking with families in clinic about these ploys and techniques for getting our children to behave. Here’s my take…

Ultimately, I don’t believe that children are good or bad, naughty or nice. Children are inherently good (but do bad things sometimes). Right?

Our job (as parents, pediatricians, community members) resides in distinguishing and defining their behaviors from their actual essence. As parents we are required to help define good behavior from bad. It’s how our toddlers (and teenagers) figure it all out. So the whole punitive Santa-knows-you’ve-been-naughty-coal-in-the-stocking thing doesn’t make any sense.

Here’s the thing, it seems to me that NO ONE would alter what gifts they give their child for Christmas based on behavior. I mean, really, do you know anyone who had 8 gifts stacked under the tree and then relinquished one or more of the gifts for a child’s “naughty” behavior?

Nobody does this. This is why using Santa (or his elves) as a behavioral tool is never going to work. The thing about using Santa as a disciplinarian is that there are no teeth in the consequence. Naughty or nice is a total hoax. Unmet threats are entirely worthless when defining right from wrong for our kids.

So why do so many of us talk about being good for Santa (or anyone else for that matter)? I think it’s shear fatigue. By the time November-December rolls around, I think we’re all so flipping exhausted by our own ruts, our standard and steadfast rules and techniques, we appreciate the change in plan. A new venue for discipline, a new gimmick that seems to work…tradition.

Don’t you agree? Did you use Santa’s opinion of “naughty or nice” this season? Did it work? Would your child’s poor behavior ever change what gifts you give? Is giving independent?

Why do you give gifts?