Skip to main content
Canada’s most-awarded newsroom for a reason
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
Canada’s most-awarded newsroom for a reason
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

I knew I might be in trouble when, on a recent family trip to Chicago, my three-year-old asked if he could put the whole city "on his list."

This list was an easy crutch I'd devised months ago, when my little one seemed to be morphing into a pint-sized shopaholic. He'd reflexively ask for a toy the minute he saw it on TV, in a store or at a friend's house. "Put it on your list," I'd say, explaining that we'd revisit the list come Christmas.

So, as the big day approaches, the list looms extra-large. Thankfully, my son has likely forgotten most of what's on it (including, I deeply hope, those horrid enormous Stompeez slippers that caught his eye on TV), but how, exactly do I ensure that his expectations aren't unrealistic?

Story continues below advertisement

I've been collecting strategies. One is to remind my kid that Santa only has room for, say, three presents for him in his sleigh. Or that demand is up this year, so there's only so much for each child. Another, more earnest idea was recently raised by Wisconsin mother Tina Peterson in the Chicago Tribune. Ask children to make a list of four items: one want, one need, one wear, one read.

While Toronto parenting expert Jennifer Kolari says it's fine to have a set standard like this in your household, these gimmicks may not get to the heart of the issue. It's not our kids who are to blame for their long lists and iPad tastes, she says. (A Nielsen survey last month found that almost half of U.S. kids from aged 6 to 12 put an Apple iPad on their holiday wish lists this year.)

The problem is "actually us," she says, adding that modern parents have upped the spending ante on everything from birthday parties to routine $20 tooth-fairy rewards. She cites a statistic circulated by Simplicity Parenting authors Jim John Payne and Lisa M. Ross, that the average American child has 150 toys. And that's per child, not household. Kolari sees a link between overindulgence and rising rates of children's anxiety and other mental-health problems.

"We've moved away from children getting a couple of things and some stocking stuffers," she says. "Children, especially the little ones, get overwhelmed opening too many gifts."

So the holiday season offers not only a chance to make Christmas morning meltdown-free, but also a focal point for curbing the whole family's relationship to shopping and acquiring. Children can be asked to cull their toy collections in anticipation of a couple of new toys, for instance.

Kolari urges parents to take a moment in the coming weeks to lay out all of the kids' unwrapped gifts and consider an audit. "Sometimes we get caught up in buying," she says. Think about putting half of the gifts away for your child's next birthday or other children's birthdays, she says – or even returning some of them to the store.

After talking to Kolari, I broached the topic. Although my son immediately started negotiating for four, not three gifts from Santa and family, his wish list thus far includes a Pez dispenser and a "Christmas decoration."

Story continues below advertisement

Now, this is shaping up to be my kind of list.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies