Media Advisory: Holiday story ideas from Wake Forest University

Focus on gratitude, not presents —The good news about children and the holidays? “Kids aren’t as materialistic as many think, so parents should understand that many kids naturally see the value of saving money and thinking more about others rather than getting the next big thing,” says Lisa Kiang, an associate professor of psychology who studies gratitude, materialism and character formation in children and adolescents.  She suggests giving the “present of time.” Families that spend time together and think about others, foster gratitude, including a “pay it forward” mentality. “This is more sustainable than gift-giving because we’re not centered on trading up and getting more and better things.” Kiang works with the Developing Gratitude research group in collaboration with Jonathan Tudge of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Boys’ toys, girls’ toys, and breaking down stereotypes — Child psychology expert and Wake Forest professor Deborah Best can share her insights on how the $22 billion toy industry is starting to listen to parents’ concerns, and the line between genders is becoming increasingly blurred. “The idea of color-coding toys, blue for boys and pink for girls, is non-beneficial,” she says. “You want boys to learn to cook, clean their rooms and take care of themselves, and you want girls to learn to play sports, build things and engineer the world if they want to.”

When it comes to kids and gender norms, Best, who has studied developmental psychology for more than 40 years, says if we continue to promote that some things are meant for girls and others are meant for boys, children won’t be willing to accept things not specified for their own gender.

Keeping the peace at family gatherings — For many families the expectations of picturesque holidays and family gatherings filled with good cheer can be far from reality.

Samuel Gladding, professor of counseling, suggests ways to keep the peace and strengthen bonds.

  • “When families get together for the holidays, it is the perfect time to call a truce. Tell yourself, no matter what someone says, you’re not going to react. It’s okay to take unilateral action for a harmonious gathering.”
  • He encourages realistic expectations, “If you idealize the holidays, the more frustrated, disappointed and unhappy you are likely to be with yourself and others.”
  • He also recommends accepting people for who they are. “Unless they are doing something totally unacceptable, it’s better to enjoy people for who they are instead of who you want them to be,” Gladding says.
  • The holidays can be the perfect opportunity to share family stories that will benefit younger and older generations. “Storytelling strengthens individuals and families. If you know the past, you are much more likely to benefit from it and be inspired or determined to make the future better or at least as good as the past.”

Surviving holiday food temptations — Health psychologist Shannon Mihalko, an associate professor of health and exercise science, offers easy tips to help get through the holiday season of temptations. She is involved in a number of clinical trials and works on consequences of behavior change and adherence. In other words, she helps trial participants stick to their goals.

“Go into gatherings with a game plan,” says Mihalko. “To the best of your ability, plan ahead and allow yourself a few food choices you might not usually get to enjoy.” For more tips, go here.


About Wake Forest University 

Wake Forest University combines the best traditions of a small liberal arts college with the resources of a large research university. Founded in 1834, the school is located in Winston-Salem, N.C. The University’s graduate school of arts and sciences, divinity school, and nationally ranked schools of law, medicine and business enrich our intellectual environment. Learn more about Wake Forest University at

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