The holidays can be a time when a sense of entitlement shows its ugly face. Here are some strategies to keep kids grounded during the holiday season.
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For our family, it starts when the American Girl catalog arrives in the mail.
Despite my efforts to hide or even recycle a copy or two, somehow the beloved catalog finds its way into my girls’ hands, especially around holiday time. And then it begins:
“Mom, did you know there’s an American Girl spa? I want that.”
“I’m going to get the Adventure Tent.”
“Last year I got Grace’s dog so this year I need the horse.”
“I must have this new outfit for my doll.”
Pages are earmarked. Images circled. Even a bit of strategizing takes place between sisters to determine who should get what to maximize the haul.
And, of course, all these items purchased together would cost a fortune.
These are the beginning stages of what a sense of entitlement looks like. The idea that kids deserve or even need certain gifts for Christmas. The attitude that if they don’t get what they want, they’ve been cheated.
Fortunately for us, entitlement rarely shows its ugly face in our house.
Toning Down Entitlement
Other than letting us know what they want for Christmas – sometimes in a bit more of an assertive way than we’d like – our girls are pretty good about not acting like they deserve everything on their Christmas list.
Maybe we’ve just been blessed with kids who are naturally grateful for what they have?
I wish, but no.
My kids, like any other child growing up in today’s world, are bombarded with messages of commercialism. From catalogs, ads, trips to the mall, even talk among friends, the message they receive is clear: kids deserve presents, and lots of them, on Christmas morning (or whichever holiday your family celebrates).
If we as parents don’t take active measures to counterbalance these influences, our kids will act in an entitled way. The reality is if you’re a kid growing up in a world where messages of commercialism are commonplace and no one has given you a sense of money limits, it’s simply natural to feel you deserve anything you desire.
Take Advantage of the Opportunity
The face of entitlement is ugly. And any parent’s initial reaction when confronted with entitlement is to get frustrated and simply tell their kids they’re being selfish or greedy or downright spoiled.
But instead, parents can see these signs of entitlement as a learning opportunity – a chance to teach kids how money works and what it means to have limited resources and to make trade-offs.
It’s not always easy, and you can expect to get push-back. What kid wants a life lesson when they’re thinking about holiday presents? But these lessons are far more valuable and last longer than that Lego set under the tree.
Below are some ways I’ve found to teach these lessons when the signs of entitlement arise.
7 Tips to Avoid Kids’ Entitlement During The Holidays:
My girls know there are limits to what I am willing to spend on their Christmas gifts. Before this year, explaining those limits in dollar amounts wouldn’t have made sense, so instead, I talked about trade-offs: “You want an American Girl spa? Well, don’t expect a whole lot else for Christmas because that costs $110. If instead, you were to get the Lego Private Jet and some knitting yarn we might still be able to get some American Girl doll clothes.”
Begin a Holiday Motto
One way to set limits is to come up with a family holiday motto. For example, Lauren Greutman’s family follows the philosophy of getting everyone “something they need, something they want, something they wear and something to read”. This way everyone knows what to expect on Christmas morning and few comparisons can be made between one child’s bounty and another’s.
Have Kids Make a List
We have yet to make a list in our house, but only because thus far it hasn’t been necessary. However, I’m prepared for the day when my girls start asking for too many things for Christmas. When this happens, I’m going to suggest they write everything down, including prices, and add up the total cost.
For any kid with a good money sense, a large sum will hopefully be eye-opening. And even for kids who don’t have a grasp of money and expenses, this would be a good opportunity to discuss how much you’ve budgeted for gifts.
Don’t Be Afraid to Say Something is Too Expensive
I’m very open about telling my girls when something is too expensive – either for our budget or just when something is overpriced and isn’t a good value. There’s no shame in this. The only way kids will get a sense for what items should or shouldn’t cost is through you, their primary financial teacher.
A sign it’s working: the other day when my youngest was going through a catalog, she showed me a dress she really liked. When I pointed out the cost of the dress was $64, she immediately said “Oh, that’s too expensive.” and moved on. Music to my ears.
Make Sure Kids are Involved in Gift Giving
It’s easy for kids to think Christmas is all about them. It’s also easy for parents to do all the Christmas shopping. But letting kids get presents for other relatives and siblings lets them know that Christmas is about both giving and receiving.
And these gifts don’t have to be purchased at the store. For the past three years, my girls have made gifts for their relatives: pottery, painted picture frames, and other crafts.
Incorporate Charity Into the Holiday Season
Every year our girls receive a gift certificate to donate money to a charity of their choice. I think of this as an opportunity for them to learn to be mindful of the needs of others. It also counts as one of their gifts, and it’s one that isn’t about them.
Create Holiday Traditions
To reduce the emphasis on holiday consumerism, be sure to focus on the religious roots of the holiday you celebrate if you’re a family of faith. If you’re not, consider creating traditions around family time together, not gifts. These alternative ways of thinking about the holidays diffuse the focus on gifts and alter the very nature of the holidays. Traditions in our family include reading the Christmas Story, visiting a living nativity scene, eating special foods on Christmas morning, and playing board games with the extended family on Christmas afternoon.
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