The holidays can be a time when entitlement shows its ugly face. Here are some strategies to tone down kids entitlement during the holidays.
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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 ends up in my girls’ hands.
And then it begins:
“Mom, did you know there’s an American Girl spa?” “I want that.”
“Can I get the adventure tent for Christmas?”
“Last year I got Grace’s dog so this year I want the horse.”
Pages are earmarked. Images circled. Even a bit of negotiating takes place between sisters to determine who should get what.
Lots of talk about wanting this and getting that.
These are the beginning stages of what 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.
And fortunately, entitlement rarely shows its ugly face in our house.
Toning Down Entitlement
Yes, I said it – my girls rarely show signs of entitlement during the holidays.
Other than letting us know what they want for Christmas, our girls are pretty good about not acting like they deserve everything on their Christmas list.
Maybe I got lucky. Maybe I’ve been blessed with kids who are naturally grateful for what they have.
Perhaps, but I don’t think so.
My kids, like any other child growing up in western society, 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.
So how have I been able to raise kids who rarely show signs of entitlement on Christmas day?
With lots of work.
First of All – Attitudes of Entitlement are Natural
Note that I say my girls rarely show signs of entitlement during the Christmas season. That doesn’t mean we never hear “But that’s not fair!” when telling them we won’t get a certain gift. Or “I really NEED that!” when referring to a toy.
The face of entitlement is ugly. And any parent’s initial reaction is to tell their kids they’re being selfish or greedy or downright spoiled.
But the reality is if you’re a kid growing up in a world where messages of commercialism are the norm and you have no sense of money limits, it’s pretty natural to feel you deserve anything you desire.
Instead, parents can see signs of entitlement as a learning opportunity. A chance to teach kids how money works and what it means to have trade-offs.
It’s not always easy, and you can expect to get push-back, but these lessons are far more valuable than that Lego set under the tree.
7 Tips to Keep Entitlement at Bay:
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 clothing.
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. The benefits of a family motto is that 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 voicing a long list of wants for Christmas. When this happens, I’m going to suggest they write everything down, including prices and total that amount. For any kid who has a good money sense that number 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 over-priced. There’s no shame in this – the only way that kids will get a sense for what items should or shouldn’t cost is through you, their primary financial teacher.
And the benefits of these discussions? The other day as my youngest was going through a catalog, she showed me a dress she really liked. When I pointed out that 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 sure is easy for kids to think Christmas is all about them. It’s also easy for mom and dad 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 in the form of painted pottery and picture frames.
Incorporate Charity Into the Holiday Season
Every year I or a relative gives our girls a gift certificate to donate money to a charity of their choice. I think of this as a teaching moment for my kids about the needs of others and also an opportunity to introduce a gift that isn’t about them.
Create Holiday Traditions
If you’re religious, focus on the birth of Jesus. If you’re not, create traditions around family. Holiday traditions diffuse the focus on gifts and provide for special family time. Traditions in our family include reading the Christmas story, visiting a living nativity scene, eating special foods on Christmas morning, and playing a board game with the extended family on Christmas afternoon.
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