ASK BBB

Our daughter is generally kind and gracious, but as it comes closer to her 10th birthday, she has become fixated on what gifts she’s going to get. She’s been talking non-stop about all the toys and clothes she wants. How can we instill the true meaning of celebrating her double-digit birthday without making it all feel awful?

No one wants to raise an ungrateful, materialistic, “gimme, gimme, gimme” child. The problem, of course, is that most don’t really know what to do preemptively in this regard.

In fact, this very question is the reason for the chapter “Gimme Gimme Gimme” in my second book, “You’re Not the Boss of Me.”

From a very early age, children need to learn that wanting and needing do not equate. They need to be allowed to want and to long and not always to get. Instead, many kids make their birthday and holiday lists, checking off items one by one, desires granted. They seldom have the opportunity to long (and work) for something they really, really want. (How funny it is that everything they want, they really want?)

That said, you describe your daughter as gracious and kind, so I’m going to guess that you are doing your job well. Likely, your daughter has simply come to know that birthdays are all about me, me, me. Seems pretty normal, actually.

Please let me assure you that there is nothing wrong with longing. For some reason, however, it really puts parents off. But longing can be a good thing and a great motivator. Longing propels many people, adult and child, forward in aiming for their goals. It is truly not a bad thing.

You mentioned that you wanted your daughter to “celebrate the true meaning in celebrating her double-digit birthday.” Guess what? It’s bigger to you than it is to her. You understand the whole growing up thing; she does not. She is just too young. And to a child, being a double digit is cool, but it doesn’t actually trigger much in her mind.

Perhaps what is needed is simply to manage your daughter’s expectations. While she may want and want, there is a clear limit to what she will get, whether in value or number of the gifts. And, as long as you don’t feel in the slightest bit guilty (no admonishing or finger wagging either), your message will be heard. (And rest assured, there is absolutely no reason to feel guilty.)

I am a big proponent of making every birthday, starting with the first, an opportunity to think of others. Each year you (and your child, as she gets older) choose a charity to which to donate money or some of the gifts received. Some people ask invited guests to bring only a gift to be donated. They are countless ways to add an additional focus—away from “gimme” to “give you.”

Happy birthday!