News Release: School of Medicine

Dec. 4,  2008

Economy Gives Families an Opportunity to Be Creative this Holiday Season

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Difficult financial times have some parents wondering how to explain economic hardships to their children and still maintain the joy and anticipation that normally comes along with the holiday season.

Nadine Kaslow, PhD, family psychologist and professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Emory University School of Medicine, recommends that parents have a conversation with their school-aged children.

"If you communicate with children so they know in advance how and why things are going to be different this year, they won't be quite as disappointed," says Kaslow. "Reassure them that it will eventually get better, but it's kind of tough in our country right now, and everyone has to cut back - including Santa."

Kaslow says there are lots of people who don't have money for the holidays, but they somehow manage to make them festive. "You just have to be a little creative."

"But," she adds, "if you can hardly scrape enough money together to feed your family, don't be embarrassed about taking advantage of churches and other charitable organizations that have access to resources such as donated food and gifts."

Below are some suggestions that may help to keep the kids from being bewildered and maintain a cheerful holiday:

  • Young children are not as interested in the quality of the gift as they are in the quantity of gifts they have to open. Purchase safe, inexpensive toys at thrift shops, garage sales, discount stores, or flea markets.
  • If you have friends or relatives with older/younger children, perhaps they have outgrown some of their gently used toys or clothing and would be willing to give them away - or perhaps you can work out a swap.
  • Combine practical gifts with fun gifts - a few pairs of socks or a pair of pajamas along with that toy truck.
  • Create a tradition that doesn't involve spending money. Focus more on family time and less on giving gifts.
  • Play a "Secret Santa" game that requires each child and adult in the family to make a gift for one other person.

Kaslow also suggests that if the children are old enough, perhaps there is a volunteer project for the family to participate in together.

"Regardless of your finances, there is a wonderful opportunity here for parents to teach their children there is great value and joy in doing things for others who are less fortunate," she says. "The experience teaches them that lots of people have to deal with much more serious problems than they have -- a valuable lesson to learn about humanity and altruism."


The Robert W. Woodruff Health Sciences Center of Emory University is an academic health science and service center focused on missions of teaching, research, health care and public service. Its components include schools of medicine, nursing, and public health; Yerkes National Primate Research Center; the Emory Winship Cancer Institute; and Emory Healthcare, the largest, most comprehensive health system in Georgia. The Woodruff Health Sciences Center has a $2.3 billion budget, 17,000 employees, 2,300 full-time and 1,900 affiliated faculty, 4,300 students and trainees, and a $4.9 billion economic impact on metro Atlanta.

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