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Christmas Eve shopping has its drawbacks. The crowds are thinning out, but then so are the shelves, and short tempers are spreading faster than joy and good will.

We are never quite sure what will produce the magic Christmas twinkle in a child’s eye.

The truth is, no plastic gizmo, sealed in its plastic card, will maintain lasting joy, nor will it ward off the Christmas grumps for very long. Children who are basically happy and satisfied before Christmas will take their cues from Mom and Dad and are likely to be the ones basically content in January.

Since my brother and I only had a little shopping and wrapping to do and no kitchen chores until clean-up time, we were likely to follow Mom’s example. She set a standard. We never quite met it, but there’s no doubt the attitude was contagious.

So what can a parent get as the “right” gift? For the boxes under the tree, I’m afraid we’re all stuck with guessing. But a parent’s best gift can be a positive model to follow.

When the kids are doing the giving, parents shouldn’t miss their chance to model gratitude. Children are more likely to take you literally so reactions to homemade gifts such as, “What in the world is this?” or “You shouldn’t have used all that glue,” can leave the child confused and hurt. “Thank you” is always the most appropriate reaction to any gift.

Want to give a warmer gift? My favorite is my Aunt Emily’s habit of giving “services.” Short on cash, her gift was her card to this Chicago teenager that said, “Good for one day-trip to the Museum of Science and Industry.” I don’t remember any gifts from under the tree, but I do remember my lunch and tour with feisty Aunt Em at the museum.

Here are some other holiday resolutions for the coming year that I have heard from parents:

1. Put aside, every day, more time for listening without an agenda of criticism or advice.

2. Make sure, every day, that the children know that you not only love them but you like them – that they have many capabilities and likable characteristics. “I love you” is not much without “I like you.”

3. Make yourself more healthy not only to ensure that you will be there as they grow up, but also as a model for careful diet, exercise, and control of bad habits.

4. Give over more responsibility to the children so the child-rearing moves along toward adult-rearing.

After the shreds of gift wrapping are scattered, your gift of time and admiration will be remembered all year long – even if your child’s attention at the moment is on the “stuff.”

Dr. McIntire is the author of Raising Your Teenager: 5 Crucial Skills for Moms and Dads and What Every Parent Should Know About Raising Children

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