by Elaine Stone
The magical time of year is upon us. Every parent wishes to sidestep the mundane and create celebrations that usher in sugar plum fairies and starlit wonder. It is the time children adore and anticipate year round. Child sized hopes and dreams compel parents to make them come true.
The wonder and awe of a child brings joy to every parent's heart. It is a once-a-year experience producing; excitement, delight and treasured moments. What is wrong with parent's striving to produce this response in children? Why shouldn't it be their aim?
The target is not the problem; producing wonder and awe and making a few wishes come true. The problem is the means by which many parents strive to achieve it. According to child development expert Donna Habenicht, who specializes in developing values, character, and spirituality in children, "showing some restraint may make everyone appreciate the holiday more. Most kids--and most adults--harbor large amounts of 'give-me.'" Many lavishly believe this is the time of year to throw away constraints, buy what is not affordable, purchase on credit, "figure it out later", celebrate, and indulge children. After all, "it is a once-a-year celebration", "we deserve it", "we don't want to disappoint", and "budgets are for poor people." According to Tina Sedersten, MSW, School Liaison/CAPH Therapist in her article Setting Limits for Children, "In a world that is becoming more complicated, it's increasingly important to set limits with your children. Limits teach children proper restraint in social and individual activities and provide children with necessary structure and security to assist in healthy development." (http://www.alegent.com/body.cfm?id=3066, accessed Oct. 2009)
According to parenting scholars Craig Hart and Lloyd Newell at Brigham Young University, wise parents guide their children by creating a "safety net" of appropriate limits. (http://realfamiliesrealanswers.org/?page_id=81, accessed Oct. 2009) Dianne Couris in her article, Setting Limits for Children states, "The most meaningful component of limit setting involves teaching children to make choices with the awareness that each decision has either a positive or a negative consequence. Your child will quickly realize that behaviors have consequences when you, as a parent and teacher, clearly explain the connection whenever learning opportunities arise. (http://www.buzzle.com/editorials/2-22-2005-66117.asp, accessed Oct. 2009) Thus, the December holidays provide a great opportunity for parents to teach limit setting. Not only will it yield needed life skills for children, but it will also help keep family finances in alignment with reality.
So, where to begin; consider adopting the "Wise Men Approach" which began over two thousand years ago in a little town called Bethlehem. There were wise kings who traveled a long distance to welcome the birth of another king. Just as is customary today, they wanted to show their love and support by gifting the newborn babe. They had everything at their disposal. They could have granted animals, land, jewel studded robes or priceless crowns. But, instead they limited their welcoming gifts to three: three gifts of worth from their own country. After all, a baby is not yet ready to rule a kingdom or tend to animals or wear jewels or crowns. They gave useful gifts that his parents could use to raise him in a manner fit for a newborn king.
The "Wise Men Approach" is simple and makes things less complicated. Consider allowing children to ask for three gifts; only three gifts under the tree. (With, perhaps, a fun filled stocking.) No long scrolling list of requests. For those who are still "Santa" inclined, explain that toys need to be left for other children and even Santa has limits. Give monetary restrictions that are age appropriate and suit the family budget; an amount can be designated for each gift or a total amount for all three. Encourage children to think about it. Spend some time helping children make intelligent choices; choices that will bring enjoyment for months and years to come. Point out when toys are cheap or will break easily or when they are not age appropriate. Steer children to choices that will benefit them. If children are older, explain the philosophy and reasons. Thrifytimes.com in its article, Christmas Greed, encourages parents to, "Actively talk about limiting consumption. What does it mean to "choose less?" Discuss why more is not better, and how more only satisfies temporarily." (http://thriftytimes.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=105:christmas-greed&catid=22:financial-freedom, accessed Oct. 2009) This approach teaches children healthy limits, and discourages greed and materialism. It will also help maintain budget restraints and keep the family finances healthy for the months and year ahead.
Aim to empower children with realistic approaches to even the most magical of times. It is amazing what a little creativity and resolve can produce. Starlit wonder and awe can be achieved in every child by a loving parent who uses a little imagination even within family limits. Growing children will learn along the way, how to produce a little holiday magic of their own by the example of parents who set, maintain, and practice family limits. Try the "Wise Men Approach" and teach children to live like kings.
Strategies to calm holiday greed
Divert them with what they really want.
Kids may tell shopping mall Santas that they want the latest video game or other expensive toy du jour, but what do they tell experts? "Studies indicate that what kids really want is to spend more time with their parents," says pediatrician Marilyn Heins, MD, author of ParenTips. So a $10 soccer ball may be better received than the latest sports video game, as long as it comes with a promise of parental play. "It's not enough to just give your child a ball and send them outside," says Amin. "You have to say, 'Let's go outside and play together.'"
Use your head -- and their hands.
All it takes is some cash to buy the perfect gift, but it takes your schmoozing ability to create one -- while also feeding your child's self-esteem. If your son likes art, you may suggest he use his Van Gogh-like abilities to paint personalized pictures for each family member; if your daughter likes words, you could mention her gift for writing poems that will be cherished long after the holiday lights are packed away. "Anything you can do to validate their interests and abilities helps build their esteem and takes their mind off themselves, not to mention being less financially burdensome," says Amin. "These kinds of gifts are wonderful substitutions for store-bought presents. They are enormously rewarding not only to the receiver, but also the giver."
Write a different kind of promissory note.
Come New Year's Day, the new high-priced toy may be forgotten, but this timeless classic won't be: A coupon book, redeemable for the entire year, that's packed with IOUs for your child's favorite toy-less activities. January might include a coupon good for 30 minutes of "Daddy wrestling" while February could feature a basement tea party or impromptu "show." Other months could include trips to their favorite park, driveway basketball games, or even time off from chores such as emptying the garbage or setting the dinner table.
Indulge their fantasy, but keep it real.
So you have a young one who still believes in Santa Claus and his unlimited resources for providing gifts to all those "good" boys and girls? "Fantasies like Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy are healthy for young children, but their purpose is to keep them in reality -- not to make them happy," says Heins. She recommends that when long and expensive wish lists are presented, you warmly present the cold facts -- that as deserving they are because of good behavior, they will likely only get one or two choice items, but will still enjoy a cool Yule.
And when they complain?
Do they really need to prove their schoolyard worth with a pair of $100 sneakers that their peers got? "Explain that it's OK to be different and that having those sneakers doesn't make them a better person," says Amin. "You could say, 'Maybe Johnny next door got those expensive sneakers, but it was you who scored two goals in the last game -- not him. Make them realize that what is unique about them isn't what they own, but what they have inside."
(http://www.webmd.com/balance/features/tis-season-to-be-greedy, accessed Oct. 2009)
Attitude Makeover: Greed
One of the biggest causes of greediness is the one we hate admitting most: too often we parents have obliged our kids' every whim. Sure, we want our kids to be happy and have what they desire, but motivating them with bribery is a destructive style of parenting, and giving them more than they need just to keep up with the Joneses is equally toxic. In the end, we must keep true to one real parenting goal: raising kids who are satisfied with themselves and recognize the joy of others. So if your child appears to have a case of the "gimmes," always puts himself first, and isn't appreciative of what he has, it's time for a serious makeover. Start today by beginning a long-term commitment to inspire frugality, altruism, and generosity.
(http://life.familyeducation.com/behavioral-problems/parenting/36013.html, accessed Oct. 2009)