Do gifts really make children happy?


Children grow up in an environment where consumption is omnipresent. From a very young age, they accompany their parents to stores where they find themselves exposed to temptations of all kinds, between toys, sweets or merry-go-rounds.

When their birthday approaches, or the end-of-year holiday period, they never run out of ideas to draw up the list of gifts they would like to receive, stamping their feet with impatience while waiting for the moment to unwrap their presents.

But, by making them participate in the great game of consumption, do these gifts really contribute to their happiness, present and future? Do we not risk by spoiling children pushing them to always want more, to feel frustrated when they do not get what they want and therefore to become perpetually dissatisfied adults?

For the International Journal of Consumer Studies , we looked at the links between gifts received in childhood and the feeling of happiness experienced in adulthood. The results show us how complex the question is and how important it is to give meaning to what we offer.

The “gift scheme”

First of all, remember that parents are very important agents of socialization in consumption since it is with them that children will acquire their first reference points and habits in this area.

Studies conducted in the United States have shown that when parents systematically use gifts to reward or comfort their children , the latter are more likely to become more materialistic, that is, they will have tendency to judge others, as well as themselves, on the basis of material possessions.

More generally, materialistic people make the acquisition of possessions a central goal of life, and they implicitly believe that it is through material wealth that one can achieve happiness. However, many studies have shown that the more materialistic people are, the less happy they feel .

How then do these gifts interfere with education? Is depriving children of this type of reward a good response to materialism and dissatisfaction?

According to our study , this experience of exchanging gifts favors the formation of a “gift schema” in the child, that is to say a relatively well-organized mental representation of the essential elements of the ritual. Thus, the child learns that giving and receiving constitute an appropriate response to the various events, successes or failures, which occur in life.

As he grows, the reproduction of this pattern generalizes to the gifts he will offer himself. The fact of buying a gift for oneself (in English, “self-gifting” ) consists in treating oneself by offering a product, an outing or a trip to celebrate special events or to feel better following a failure or disappointment. What to become even more materialistic , and therefore less happy  ?

Share words and time

It’s all about measurement. The exchange of gifts is not a ritual to be neglected since it refers to a form of sharing between parents and children and makes it possible to build privileged moments. It is an effective way to learn, implicitly, the importance of establishing good relationships with others.

Giving gifts can help children become more social, and therefore make them feel happier . But the experience will not have the same effects depending on the mode of education in which it is part, in particular the type of family communication . It is the time offered to the child and the d

If we systematically give in to the desires expressed by a child for such and such a toy, object or candy, we leave little room for dialogue and exchange around the symbolism of the gift. And we unwittingly reinforce a certain feeling of insecurity which precisely generates materialistic values: the child having the impression that he has disappointed his parents will tend to seek comfort in his material possessions.

On the other hand, if the material exchange is coupled with a real communication, then the gift becomes an opportunity to weave strong links around an object which becomes symbolic, concretizing a success or a memory. Family relations are then calmed down, the feeling of insecurity greatly diminished and the materialistic tendencies of the young consumer are restrained. The results of our research suggest that this communication effort is beneficial for everyone.

It is therefore healthy to offer gifts to your child, but that does not mean that you should give him everything he wants. The key is to focus on quality time with your child to give meaning to the exchange of gifts.

Author Bios:Dania Mouakhar-Klouz is a Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Rouen Normandy and Alain d’Astous is Honorary Professor in Marketing at HEC Montréal