In the midst of the pre-holiday shopping frenzy, many parents may wonder, how much is really enough? At what point will we know if our children are really spoiled?
Some parents are so worried their children will become entitled that they make them earn their own money to pay for some combination of their needs and wants. Others give their children everything they need and want all year long, and eventually feel it's tough to top whatever they bought them the last time. These parents do risk spoiling their kids.
It’s so hard not to cave in, with the media pulling out all the stops trying to whet our appetites for more and more material things. A recent special holiday episode of ABC’s The Middle called “A Simple Christmas” depicts the mom trying to create a simpler Christmas. An ad by Target, the sponsor of the episode on ABC.com, seemed, at first, ironic. It entreats viewers to “take a spree through the season’s hottest gifts” with a shopping cart viewers are supposed to move with their computer cursor to “catch” falling presents, including a smart phone, computer, fuzzy pink slippers and a GPS.
The irony: doesn’t this undermine the “simple Christmas” message? Actually, it reinforces the ultimate message of the program. Spoiler alert: the mom loses her battle to emphasize family and values over consumption when her parents pile a mountain of gifts under and around the Christmas tree. Gifts she had convinced everyone to do without this year. The program seemed to conclude, oh come on, where’s your holiday spirit? Give more, more, more!
Although many parents don't want to deprive their children, if you give them everything they always want and need, then there's nothing left for them to desire to get on their own. That can create real problems for their motivation in life. The trick is never to fully satisfy all their wants. Give gifts that are thoughtful and will motivate your kids rather than satiate them with all their wants.
One of the most common questions parents ask us during our financial parenting workshops is whether it's best to let children earn spending money to buy their own toys. Our answer: Yes! Children learn to differentiate between wants and needs and appreciate that money is a finite resource when they receive an allowance based on financial responsibilities--a combination of needs and wants they are expected to cover.
During this season, even parents who emphasize the more spiritual and family aspects of the holidays may find their efforts lost, as they feel unable to dodge the barrage of goodies well-meaning friends and relatives send to our children.
Here are a few sage suggestions to redirect their children's holiday excitement and spirit:
· Teach children to be good givers. Invite young children (ages five to 10) to chip in some of their allowance or savings to buy a thoughtful gift for some friends and relatives. Encourage pre-teens and teens to save a portion of their money in advance to buy modest gifts on their own.
· Show them it's not all about money. Kids' and parenting magazines are filled with ideas about how to make gifts. Let your kids choose from a few possibilities you suggest, such as making fleece scarves (which just involves cutting), a personalized book of photos you can create online, little cotton microwavable heating pad pillows made from cotton squares (lined with muslin) that you fill half with rice, half with oatmeal. Set aside an evening or two to make gifts for siblings, cousins and friends.
· Remember those in need. Guide children to donate a portion of their allowance or money from jobs to charity. Also let them help you decide which organizations you will donate to this year. If a relative or friend is struggling with some disease, perhaps a research foundation for that illness would be a meaningful place. If your children have expressed fear or sadness about some major tragedy in the news, they are likely to feel good helping you find a nonprofit group that helps people suffering from that tragedy. Older kids can even research online to make sure the groups spend little on administrative and marketing, and pass through most of the donations to support the cause directly.
Another way to deemphasize the material aspects of the holidays is to volunteer together. Perhaps you can help cook, serve or clean at a nearby soup kitchen, or visit a local nursing home.
You may want to arrange with some relatives and friends to forgo buying each other more stuff you may not need and, instead, make charitable donations in each other's honor, to causes those people care about.
· Teach good receivers. What happens when generous but clueless Uncle Joey presents your 14-year-old son with a giant box of sports paraphernalia from the very team he disdains the most? Or when Aunt Sally sends your 13-year-old daughter an expensive designer sweater that's so last season? Do they laugh despite their efforts not to? Do they complain? Cry? Or lie? Challenge them to find one sincere, positive thing to say about the gift. "That's the most set of stuff from one team I've ever gotten!" or "I'm so impressed you knew one of my favorite clothing designers!"