Have you ever had a child rip through her presents on Christmas morning and respond with, “Is that all?”? In that moment, we’d love to trade in our child’s greediness for Tiny Tim’s “God bless us every one.” With the holidays approaching, here are 5 mistakes for parents to avoid so their children don’t get the “gimmes.”
1.Don’t encourage a wish list. Avoid asking a child, “What do you want for Christmas?” That question encourages a child to be self centered. Instead, ask, “What are your favorite things to do at Christmastime?” or “What are you giving to others for Christmas?” Wish lists to Santa reinforce the expectation of getting a bunch of loot. Rather than a wish list, I bought an advent calendar with empty pockets that I filled with candy canes and slips of paper. In order for my children to eat the candy on their day, they had to complete the act of service written on the paper. A better alternative for a “gimme” list is to sit down with your kids and have them think of what a disadvantaged child might need. Go shopping together for that gift, have them wrap it, and leave it secretly on the front porch or take it to a charitable organization. Another idea is to have your child donate one of his used toys (in good condition) to a shelter for every new toy he receives for Christmas.
2. Don’t be afraid to say “No.” “All my friends have one” is not a reason to succumb to 7-year-old peer pressure. Respond with “In our family, we don’t have iPads for everyone. We are saving money for our family summer vacation. You are welcome to share the one we have.” Young children often have no concept of price or what is affordable. Give them a dollar limit and if their request exceeds it say, “That’s over our budget.” If your teenager unloads a big request you cannot afford (a drone, a PS2, or a season ski pass, for example), there are a few options. “No, not this year” is within your rights to say as a parent. Another great approach is to teach your child the value of the item by making her earn part of it. Meet her halfway with the price. Another is to shop for used products whenever possible. Teach frugality and how to avoid waste and entitlement.
3. Avoid commercials and toy catalogues. These were invented by the devil’s marketing minions! We should limit TV viewing throughout the year, but especially during the holidays. When you see a commercial, talk about what is real. “That actress is a girl who is paid to smile and make you think you will only be happy if you get that doll. She makes money for the company when people buy what she is pretending to play with.” We should also limit our window shopping in toy stores. It’s easy to impulse buy when there is a doe-eyed child in your shopping cart using a guilt trip that drips with desperation.
4. Don’t make gifts the center of your holidays. Christmas should be about lasting family traditions. Be sure your child sees that you value memories over presents. How do you spend your time? Shopping? Or decorating cookies together? Rather than having your children buy gifts for each other, why not make service your holiday centerpiece? I like the idea of doing a “Secret Santa” activity where each child draws the name of a sibling and does secret kind deeds throughout December for that brother or sister. On Christmas Day, the children open a box with the name inside of who was their Secret Santa.
5. Don’t forget the thank you notes. I have a neighbor who does not let her children play with a toy until they have written the giver a thank you note. You may not be that strict, but you can write a list of who gave what to each family member and spend an evening together during the holidays sending thank you cards. If the giver is there in person when the child opens the gift, be sure to teach the child how to express sincere appreciation (and how to fake it if they hate it).