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What Am I Getting?

The holidays are here! Many households are a flurry of preparation. While the parents are decorating, baking and planning, kids are working on their wish lists. Those lists can make a parent cringe. The wish list can grow and change daily, turning your nice, thoughtful kids into materialistic, consuming machines. If you find yourself worrying about how to combat this ravenous desire in your child while still providing a joyous holiday, take heart! It’s probably not as bad as it seems.

The holiday season by definition is a special time. All types of “extras” happen this time of year. Houses and public buildings are decked out with sparkly, richly colored decorations and lights. There are parties, ceremonies and events that occur only at this time of year. Holiday foods and sweets are prepared and savored, often at group events. Gifts are exchanged. How can a parent retain the excitement of the season while helping their children keep a balanced perspective?

Here are a few ideas about how to reflect on and handle “greedy” behavior from your child during the holidays.

Think about what they are experiencing
For weeks kids have been bombarded with the upcoming holidays. People around them, sometimes complete strangers, ask them what gifts they are asking for. Everywhere they look and everywhere they go there’s a holiday display of items to purchase. Of course they are influenced. This doesn’t mean they are “greedy”; they are reacting to their environment.

A wish list is just that Kids (and adults) enjoy making wish lists. For many children, creating their list is one of the most exciting parts of the holiday. They start to dream of possibilities. Parents, however, often view the wish list as a series of demands. So help your child prioritize items on her list and gently remind her she won’t get everything. Talk with her about her “wishes” as things she would like to have, not a shopping list for friends or family. Try to preserve the fun of creating the list without the expectation of receiving every item.

Help them experience the joy of giving
By the time they enter school, kids are old enough to get in on both ends of the gift scene. Help them think about special people in their life they want to give a gift to. Young children can prepare simple, handmade items or drawings. Older kids can give cookies or sweets they helped prepare, or provide coupons for services such as car washing, babysitting or snow shoveling. The point is to get them thinking about what other people might enjoy and how they can make it happen. Many kids really get into the giving part of the holiday when provided with the opportunity. They get excited about someone else’s delight in their gift because they know how it feels! Seeing a child’s enjoyment in gift giving will help parents relax. Maybe they aren’t thinking it’s “ all about them” after all.

What are they learning from you? Do you like to have the latest gadget? Is shopping a form of entertainment or therapy? What would you like to have but decided not to get? Do they know about it? What parents do all year long has a greater impact on children than what they experience during the holidays. When children see and hear parents exercising restraint in their purchases, they are more likely to internalize that message. Get kids involved in donating clothes, money and time to others throughout the year, promoting  a family value.

So go ahead, deck the halls, light the candles, relish that special meal. Get excited about your children’s excitement. Join them in their wishing and dreaming, help them prepare a gift for someone and be mindful of the influence of their experiences, both during the holidays and throughout the year.

Cary and Tonja Rector are married and live with their children in Manlius. Cary is a licensed mental health counselor and Tonja is a licensed marriage and family therapist. Consult your own health care provider before making decisions affecting your family’s well-being. To comment on this article, write to editorial@familytimes.biz.


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