As a father of two grown children, I vividly remember placing presents under the Christmas tree with mixed emotions. My excitement about the joy to come was partially offset by a fear that I hadn’t done enough. I didn’t want my kids to be disappointed in their presents and, by extension, me.

Another emotion gnawed at me: that I’d done too much. I worried about feeding a cycle of greed that would result in their being less caring and giving as adults.

So how do parents confront the guilt versus gluttony conundrum that can be so stressful during what is supposed to be a happy, peaceful time of year?

The reality of most household budgets is that a line has to be drawn somewhere. Parents who do what we can for our children shouldn’t feel guilty because we can’t afford to do more. After all, paying the bills is a more important parenting skill than scoring that season’s must-have toy.

A larger danger is that our joy of giving can cause us to lose focus on our responsibility to teach our children that it is better to give than receive. Children who appreciate giving are more likely to be altruistic throughout their lives.

So how can parents push back on the need to have the next great thing and teach their kids a lifelong attribute?

Help your children decide to give toys they don’t use anymore to needy children via a local charity. My children often did this, and more than 20 years later my son still talks about how the sadness of giving away a toy bunny subsided when he realized someone else needed it more.

If your children receive an allowance, encourage them to donate a percentage to a worthy cause. Talk with them about what the recipients of the money will do with it.

Volunteering at a homeless shelter or toy drive or helping elderly neighbors take care of their yard also can make a lasting impression.

It can be hard to remember during the shopping frenzy, but the volume of gifts isn’t important. The thought, time and sacrifices behind those gifts give them meaning. If children understand this concept, they’ll be more likely to become happy, giving adults.

And really, what better present could parents give their children?

E.H. “Mike” Robinson is a professor of education at the University of Central Florida in Orlando and the Robert N. Heintzelman Eminent Scholar Chair for Understanding and Prevention of Greed and to Foster the Development of Altruism.

Source: Orlando Sentinel, Teach children to appreciate giving. Published: Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2011.