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Here come the holidays—which, if you have children, can quickly spiral from a season of merrymaking into a nightmare of boundless materialism. Here, eight ideas for keeping your kids’ priorities in check and raising them to be the compassionate, hardworking little angels you know they really are.

Additional Reporting by Amalie Drury

RELATED: 6 Things You Really Need to Stop Doing for Your Kids

Funny little smiling kid boy driving toy car with Christmas tree
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Start a Charity Drive

Have kids request at least one “donate to charity” item when they send through their letters to Santa. Then follow through: shop for it together and deliver it to a toy drive or other appropriate drop-off point.

Bbay girl looking out of window at Christmas

Make Four-Part Wish Lists

You don’t need 101 gifts under the tree to have a merry Christmas. We love the gift-buying strategy of “want, need, wear, read.” Start a tradition of giving your kids one item from each category—in addition to the little things that come in their stockings.

Kid playing on floor in living room with Christmas gifts

Define “Needs” vs. “Wants”

Talk to kids about the difference between stuff they need (a new coat) and stuff they want (an Apple watch that’s also a Transformer). Then set realistic expectations about the number of gifts they can expect to receive from each side of the list.  

Kid shoveling snow outside
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Split Big-Ticket Items

When kids ask for things like iPhones and computers, get them involved in raising a certain amount of money to offset the cost. Whether it’s doing chores for the neighbors, babysitting, washing cars or shoveling sidewalks, have them save up and then fork over the cash a few weeks in advance. The lesson: hard work pays off.

RELATED: 6 Reasons Why You Should Give Your Kids Chores

Toddler playing with red truck
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Consider a Trade-in Program

Want to teach kids compassion and cut down on household clutter? Ask your children to donate or give away one old toy for every new one they get. Then rejoice when they pick the obnoxious 12-siren firetruck to cast aside.

Little boy lying on bed writing Christmas thank you card
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Send Thank-You Cards

It sounds obvious, but plenty of kids aren’t required to write thank-yous until high school graduation rolls around. Start earlier: Even preschoolers can pick out the stationery, help decide what to write, and sign and stamp the notes. They’ll love dropping them in a mailbox, too. 

RELATED: 10 Websites that Make Holiday Cards a Total Breeze

Mother and baby daughter exchanging gifts on Christmas
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Play “Give and Get”

For very little ones, grab some tissue paper and wrap up items around the house. Practice giving and getting the gifts, and show them not only how fun it is to unwrap, but also how good it feels to make someone happy and be the recipient of a big, appreciative hug.

Kids on bed in Christmas pajamas laughing1

Teach Everyday Gratitude

Make it a habit for everyone in your family to talk about three things they are grateful for every day. Toddlers can listen, learn and begin to contribute—and they’ll soon realize the most important things aren’t of the material nature.

RELATED: 8 Easy Ways to Teach Your Kids Mindfulness and Gratitude

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