Question: I feel a little overwhelmed by the number of gifts my children receive around the holidays. I want them to feel a sense of gratitude and understand their own privilege. What are your strategies for dealing with gift-giving around the holidays?
Answer: I think we all get a little worried at this time of year that our children are turning into greedy spoiled little monsters.
If it feels like your child always wants more, take a deep breath and don’t catastrophize. This is fairly normal. The nature of children is to want more. It won’t last forever, and they will be influenced by your family’s values as they grow and mature. We used to say, “What’s important? People, not stuff.”
As children grow, the “I wants” diminish both with maturity and with your influence. One of my children was famous for circling every single kit in the Lego catalogue. When he was 11, I asked him what he wanted for Christmas. He thought for a minute and said, “You know what, mom? I think my life is pretty good. I can’t think of anything I want.” They do come around.
In the meantime, try to stem the flow of gifts. You can give gifts of experience instead of material goods and urge extended family to do the same. Encourage family to give gifts such as museum outings or show tickets. My brother-in-law, Ezra, started the “EZ Pass” tradition for our children, a gift of a sleepover at auntie’s and uncle’s with pizza and movies. Time spent together is so valuable.
Dial it down. If family or friends insist on buying something, insist on a one gift policy if you can. This can be hard. (See below.)
Be gracious. Model appreciation by being gracious when your children are given gifts, even if it is over the top. I know a few grandparents who show their love with presents. Remember the spirit in which the gift is given. Even if you think it’s too much, you don’t need to crush the joy of the child or the gift giver.
Encourage giving. If you want the holidays to mean more than receiving, help your children give presents. Give presents to siblings, teachers, neighbours or grandparents. Children love thinking about what someone else would enjoy when they are given the chance. They can make presents or use a small amount of their own money if possible to buy something.
Encourage helping. Donate to the local food bank. Help a neighbour by clearing their sidewalk. Make some care packages for homeless people and hand them out.
Educate. Depending on how old your children are, read some books together and talk about how much we have compared with others. We’re not trying to make them feel guilty. We just want to give them some perspective.
Donate. If you really have too much stuff and you can’t stem the flow, you can have a policy of “in with the new and out with the old.” A quick Google search turns up many organizations that are happy to receive your gently used toys and other goods.
Write thank you notes. When my children were little, they would make cards and dictate the message to me. As they got older, they wrote them on their own. This was not negotiable. If they complained – I know this sounds mean – I told them if they couldn’t be bothered writing a thank you note, how could they expect their loved ones to put in the effort for them next year?
What if your child is acting less than grateful when they’ve just been given a pile of new things? Or if you hear: “His is better!” or, “I already have this!” or, “I didn’t get the one I wanted?” Take a deep breath.
Remember that even you can feel overwhelmed by all the gift-giving. Emotions are running high. Chock it up to overstimulation and double down on the long-term goals we are working toward.
It’s not about one day. It’s about the whole year and how you influence your children in large and small ways every day.
Sarah Rosensweet is a parenting coach who lives in Toronto with her husband and three children, ages 12, 15 and 18.
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