Q: The holidays are almost upon us, and I am concerned about my children being so focused on what they are going to receive. I know I may have caused this in the past years, but I am over it! I don’t want to have spoiled children. Is there anything I can do to tone it down?
I sure am glad you asked this question now before you look back in horror in the aftermath. I have lately been presenting my seminar, “Raising a Balanced Child in an Age of Affluence,” to many schools and organizations. So, this topic sure is on my mind.
There is so much I could share with you, but, unfortunately, this column doesn’t allow me the room to present my whole seminar.
While you may not count yourself among “the affluent,” know that children in solidly middle-class families are spoiled and have a case of the “gimmies.” The problem is not that the children are in a constant state of I want I want I want. That is fairly typical of kids.
All kids want things. Their friends have it, they want it. They see it on TV, they want it. As they grow it is that very wanting that is a great motivator: You can do some jobs to earn the money to buy that toy if you really want it.
Rather, the problem is the child’s expectation that she will want and she will get, and that drives parents crazy, especially when they already live in their own Toys R Us at home.
And when it comes to the holidays, it is more pronounced than ever. The problem is that they have not developed another context for experiencing the holidays. It’s all about me me me.
It is time to think about rebranding the winter gift-getting holidays by building in some holiday celebrations that are focused outward or other oriented. Here are some tips.
1. Right away have your child—from preschool age on up—make a list of people to whom she would like to give a gift at the holidays. Explain that these are not gifts for friends but for people to whom they want to say “thank you.” Maybe it’s the crossing guard at school. Maybe it’s the nice produce man at the grocery store. Maybe it’s the janitor or a neighbor or the gardener.
2. A trip to one of our new Palisades Village stores is not necessary! Take the time to CREATE with your children a family gift that they will give. Maybe you make small loaves of cranberry bread or chocolate dipped pretzels or sweet-smelling sachets. Regardless, it is made by the child and you so she feels like SHE is giving it. And by all means, involve her in the wrapping and card making, too. (The worse it looks, the more real and appreciated it will be!)
3. Allow your child to help you wrap the gifts you are giving. Kids like to be involved. (And if it doesn’t look perfect, so be it!)
4. As you wrap, talk about the joy you get in giving to others, in making someone else happy.
5. If you send holiday cards (sadly, a dying tradition), have your child help you ready them. She can sign cards, lick envelopes, put on stamps. But involve her in the process, as this is something that doesn’t focus on her receiving.
6. Let the holidays be a time of family experiences. It is a wonderful time to create all kinds of traditions that are part of your own family. (Remember, family traditions and the memories thereof are the glue that keep families close forever.) Examples of these might be:
•Put on your PJs, pile into the car and comb the city for holiday displays.
•Have one night of Hanukkah reserved for playing dreidel, using M&Ms or chocolate Hanukkah gelt as the prize.
•Christmas celebrants can have a game night with the whole family, also have treats for the winners. It is being all together that makes it special with a lasting memory.
•Play games of “hide the candy cane,” and whoever finds it is the next to hide it.
•Do your own caroling. Seriously! You really can go to your neighbors’ homes (plan ahead and let them know you are coming) and sing outside their doors. Alternatively, you can go to your own rooms in the house, knocking on doors and singing outside the door. Fun and funny.
•Have “Secret Santas” or “Secret Max.” Each family member does kind, helpful, funny or tricky things for a family member of their choosing. For example, if a child chooses his sibling, he can secretly do his chores for him. If a child chooses his dad, he can dust buster his car as a surprise.
While the day of receiving the gift is always special, let the build-up be just as special.
It’s not too late to turn the tide. Remember, children take their messages from you. If it’s special and fun for you, if you are enthusiastic, likely they will love it, too. All is not lost!