By Randy Cale, PH.D
Okay, let’s face it—most children get too many gifts during the holidays. Certainly, it’s not true for some children, but most families have become hooked on making the big day one that is overflowing with gifts.
Is this a problem? Not always, but usually we find that the more stuff children get the less they seem to appreciate it. Just notice for yourself. Most of us didn’t have a fraction of the toys and goodies that our kids have. And we certainly didn’t have one-tenth of the number of entertainment options. Yet, with all of these goodies are your children happier, more joy-filled, more grateful?
Unfortunately, the answer is no. If there were any data to argue that children having more and more stuff made them happier and happier, I would be the first to jump up and down and support the continued growth of consumerism for the holidays. But in reality, having more toys doesn’t make for happier children (and the same is true for grown-ups). In fact, the more that we accumulate stuff, the less we value it.
As the holiday season roles around, many parents are asking how to handle the expanding requests and demands of their children’s gift list. I would like to suggest a different question that takes us all in a different direction: What values do you want to promote with the gifts you buy your children?
If your children spend significant time in front of the TV or surf the Internet with passion then we must assume that parental values are over-ridden by those of advertisers. If they can convince your children to bug you for something, you will most likely give in.
But, I am suggesting that you start from a different place. What really supports the values your want to see develop in your children? Not likely the new video game. Or the CD all their friends rave about. Or a new TV in their bedroom. All major mistakes, if the goal is to support healthy values.
So what can you do?
Consider how you can separate your family from the “more, more, more” formula and nurture values that you really care about. Here are a few simple ideas that can help you keep your feet on the ground.
Be joyful about setting limits on expectations. As the holiday season rolls around, it is helpful to set limits on your kid’s expectations. More and more, I see parents trying to fulfill a wish list of 25 items. Out of fear of disappointment, or a desire to please, they go on a search to find every item, leveraging their credit cards well beyond their comfort zone.
You can stop this madness by controlling your kid’s expectations. For young kids, you can probably do this best by telling them that Santa will only give three toys or four toys to each little boy and girl. Explain that Santa simply can’t give every child everything they want.
For older kids, you can tell them that you won’t consider more than five items on their list. Of course this won’t stop them from making a longer list and that’s okay. You simply control the expectation up front, as best you can by stating clearly what you can do.
Learn Santa’s secret: “Santa knows what’s best for you.” As you begin to make your choices, you can continue to manage your children’s expectations. I like to give kids the message that “It’s Santa’s job to know what’s best for you.” Explain that Santa is probably going to pick three toys that he feels you really need, and that will be it.
For older kids, who refuse to pare down their list to the essentials, let them know that you’ll be making the choice about what is best for them if they cannot.
The more you give…the less they appreciate. It’s the law. You don’t have to trust me on this one. Just open your eyes and look around. The more that our lives become focused on the “stuff”, the more that the “stuff” takes on the roles of filling our addictions. Kids get addicted to immediate stimulation, limitless entertainment and passively absorbing entertainment, rather than being actively engaged.
Choose gifts that work their intellectual and creative minds. Many of today’s electronic toys actually put less demand on your child’s creative muscle. Granted, it’s often what they want and these toys can be quite entertaining. But, is it in harmony with your values?
Parents can make a huge difference by picking some toys/activities where they participate partially in the creative process. I find most parents are very concerned about their child’s creativity and their intellectual development. If this is the case, then shop for toys that nurture these skills. Many will not be mainstream items. Some ideas include:
• Ready Set Learn series of toys
• Building type toys—Legos or erector sets
• Art type toys, like paint
• Writing tools for older kids that encourage creative writing
• Science projects for older kids and parents to work on together
Bottom line: It makes sense to pay attention to your values—not my values, not the advertiser’s values, not your neighbor’s values…it needs to be your values that dictate what choices makes sense to you. I encourage you to be willing to set clear expectations in advance, and focus on choosing gifts that are in harmony with what you truly view as beneficial for your child’s long-term development. Have a wonderful holiday season!
Dr. Randy Cale, a Clifton Park based parenting expert, author, speaker and licensed psychologist, offers practical guidance for a host of parenting concerns. Dr. Cale’s new website, www.TerrificParenting.com offers valuable free parenting information and an e-mail newsletter.