The Four Gift Rule at Christmas

Not two, not eight, not ten. In fact, four is the perfect number of gifts that experts recommend for little ones at Christmas.
The Four Gift Rule at Christmas
Sergio De Dios González

Reviewed and approved by the psychologist Sergio De Dios González.

Last update: 18 December, 2022

December is consumerism season. Consequently, gift-giving is an important part of the festivities. In fact, it’s a tradition that has increased exponentially over time. The youngest are those who receive the most gifts. This often gives rise to the dilemma of how many presents should be given.

As a matter of fact, children are often overwhelmed with gifts. They receive them from their parents, relatives, and friends alike. This often results in overexposure.

The four-gift rule proposes that presents are limited. It leads to positive repercussions for the little ones. Find out its advantages here.

The four-gift rule at Christmas

The four-gift rule states that children should only receive four gifts. While the rule focuses on the youngest of us, this doesn’t mean that it can’t also be applied to adolescents or adults. The choice of gifts isn’t random, but takes into account the following:

  • Something you want,
  • Something you need,
  • Something to wear
  • And, something to read.

As you can see, in this list, nothing is left to chance. The gifts all have a practical function. They range from the satisfaction of a whim to a new addition to the wardrobe, to the fostering of reading skills.

Of course, you must adapt the gifts to each individual child’s (or adult’s) tastes. Indeed, the book and the item of clothing you give them should be to their taste, even if they don’t appear on their Christmas list. It means you’re investing your money in functional objects that they’ll use.

The four-gift rule means you bet on quality instead of quantity. Ideally, the child should only receive four Christmas gifts, so the family must all agree on not giving any more. Therefore, careful planning is required.

Christmas presents

The advantages of the four-gift rule

Everyone remembers the tantrum of the young Dudley Dursley when he received only 36 gifts for his birthday in contrast to 37 the previous year. This Harry Potter scene perfectly sums up why it’s a good idea to implement the four-gift rule.

We’ve already stipulated that the holiday season is the season of consumerism. According to experts, the main motivation to buy and receive gifts during this season is due to consumerism which often reaches extreme and compulsive degrees. In fact, some call for sustainable consumption to avoid further anxiety over the planet at this time of year.

Evidence indicates that most of the gifts that children expect to receive revolve around desires to be satisfied rather than practical needs. Furthermore, studies suggest that these wishes are mainly influenced by advertising on tv, social media, video games, etc.

Here are the main reasons for applying the four-gift rule at Christmas.

You teach them to appreciate the value of things

Often, the more that we have, the more those things lose their value. Once our desires are satisfied, our interest disappears, or at least, diminishes. This also applies to gifts. Therefore, the four-gift rule at Christmas is one way to teach children to appreciate the value of the presents they receive.

You prevent them from thinking that their whims will always be satisfied

The fact that a child doesn’t always receive everything they want is a way of teaching them to tolerate frustration. It doesn’t mean not giving gifts, but it does mean you don’t turn Christmas into a festival of satisfying every one of their wishes. To do so would be a sure way of spoiling them. Moreover, it’ll have repercussions later.

You show them the true value of Christmas

Without falling prey to clichés, the true meaning of Christmas doesn’t revolve around gifts. Regardless of your religious beliefs, the important thing is to remember that Christmas is a time for sharing, mainly with family and loved ones.

You convey the practical value of giving a gift

By employing the four-gift rule, you prevent your children from assuming that giving a gift is an empty experience. They learn that the important thing when giving a gift is the intention, not the value of the gift. It’s the sum of all these small teachings that’ll turn your child into a healthy functioning adult.

The four-gift rule avoids giving gifts for the sake of giving, reduces consumerism, extinguishes possible episodes of rudeness, and increases the family’s sense of togetherness. Gifts aren’t eliminated, but the kinds of episodes in which children are overwhelmed with gifts are. These situations not only often have a negative effect on a child’s upbringing but also possible financial implications for the family.

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  • Buijzen, M., & Valkenburg, P. M. The impact of television advertising on children’s Christmas wishes. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media. 2000; 44(3): 456-470.
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  • Halkoaho, J., & Laaksonen, P. Understanding what Christmas gifts mean to children. Young Consumers. 2009.
  • Santos, E., Diogo, A., Ratten, V., & Tavares, F. O. Impact of motivations to buy and offer gifts in consumerism at Christmas. Scientific Annals of Economics and Business. 2021; 68(3: 361-378.

The contents of Exploring Your Mind are for informational and educational purposes only. They don't replace the diagnosis, advice, or treatment of a professional. In the case of any doubt, it's best to consult a trusted specialist.