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9 Things to Do to Take Kids’ “Gimmes” and Greed Out of the Holidays

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What does your child look forward to most around the holidays? The extra time spent with mom, dad, and siblings? Sharing traditions with grandparents, cousins, and other extended family? Yummy holiday treats, playing fun games, and decorating the house together? Or is it really all about the toys, gadgets, and other swag?

Each holiday season, there’s always some talk about how commercial Christmas and Hanukkah have become. But despite the criticism and hand-wringing, putting the focus on buying and getting for the holidays is showing no signs of slowing down, and is, if anything, ramping up. Today, more and more holiday sales seem to start right after Halloween (why waste time waiting for Thanksgiving when you can start spending a month earlier!), which effectively makes the season of spending a longer one for retailers and consumers. And a recent survey by Upromise by Sallie Mae found that only 44 percent of the 500 parents surveyed said they expect to stick to a budget when shopping this holiday season, and nearly one-third said they’re planning to work extra hours to pay for all those gifts.

Considering that kids are seeing the message everywhere they turn that holiday time means buying things, it’s really no surprise that they may want and expect lots of presents under the tree. But there are ways you can teach your kids to focus less on material things and more on what the holidays really should be about–family, gratitude, and spirituality.

1. Curb greed, but don’t expect kids to completely let go of wanting.
The truth is that young children are naturally self-centered, and it’s normal for them to think about the things they want to get come holiday or birthday time. It’s neither realistic or fair to expect kids to not make a list for Santa and wish for goodies under the tree. But help kids learn to not expect or want everything on their list, and nurture their love of sharing and giving by helping them get excited about thinking of gifts for friends and family and about non-material things like the things you’ll be doing together at holiday time.

2. Be creative with gifts.
Challenge yourselves to think about things you can give each other that don’t involve buying something. (An exception would be something like tickets to a family show, concert, or museum, which is really about experiencing something together.) You can make the old standby–coupon books for things like breakfast in bed, hugs, or back rubs–or come up with something new, like making a storybook with pictures or photos about wonderful things mom, dad, or kids have done, either individually or together as a family.

3. Talk about what it means to be thankful and appreciative of what we have.
Teaching kids gratitude is something we can and should do all year round, and not something we give lip service to just around the holidays. Get kids into the habit of counting their many blessings–their health, spending time with family, and even everyday things we take for granted like running water and heat that are luxuries for so many people on this planet. By teaching kids to be thankful, you’ll not only help prevent affluenza and make sure your kids don’t become spoiled and overindulged, but you’ll end up with kids who are kind, good kids who are pleasant to be around.

4. Be mindful of your own words and actions.
Are you focusing a lot on the things you want to receive and buy for the holidays? Are most of your holiday prep and activities centered around shopping, either online or in stores? Do you complain about not having enough money to buy the things you want? Be aware of the message you are sending your child. A child’s most important role model is his parents, and if you constantly focus on material things, your child is likely to do the same.

5. Balance gift time with family time.
Think about your own best childhood memories of the holidays. Do you still treasure a toy that you just had to have when you were a kid? Or is what’s still important to you now the time you spent having fun with your family? There’s so much more to the holidays than thinking about buying presents and shopping for things. Show your child what will really be important in the long run and put time and energy into building family traditions like shopping for a tree and decorating it, listening to Christmas music, putting up holiday decorations, and making holiday treats to share with friends and family. On Christmas Day, make sure exchanging gifts is only a small part of the day. You can attend church services, go ice skating, play in the park with a soccer ball or football, play family board games, watch a holiday movie like The Grinch Who Stole Christmas or A Charlie Brown Christmas, and much more.

6. Talk to grandparents and other relatives about keeping gifts to a minimum.
You know that old adage, “the more you have, the more you want”? That’s certainly true for kids at holiday time. If your child receives 20 gifts, that’s what she’ll get used to, and expect to get the next year. Giving your child too many gifts is a sure road to affluenza, and increasing the chances of your child becoming spoiled. And if you have a big family, consider doing a Secret Santa gift exchange, where each person chooses at random one family member to buy a gift for.

7. Turn off the TV.
Around holiday time–and really, all year-round–kids are exposed to countless advertisements featuring enticing toys, gadgets, and sugary treats. Huge corporations are spending millions of dollars to hire experts who know how to make these things irresistible to kids. Instead of expecting your child to be able to somehow fight off these brilliantly-planned ads, simply turn off the TV, especially around the holidays.

8. Volunteer together.
Whether you gather old clothes and toys for a local family shelter or make sandwiches and soup at a church, do something to help families in need at this time of the year. You can even help an elderly neighbor by helping her shop for groceries or shoveling her sidewalk with your child. When kids volunteer, it helps them appreciate the things they have, teaches them the value of being charitable, and encourages them to develop empathy for others.

9. Make Christmas crafts.
One of the most fun and rewarding things you can do with kids at holiday time is to make some Christmas crafts together. With just a few basic art supplies, you can create holiday decorations, make your own cards, and even make gifts to share with friends and family. It’s a great way to let kids practice fine-motor skills and exercise some creativity as you spend some time together doing something fun.

So make this holiday season more focused on love than swag. You’ll be surprise by how much kids love family time over some new toy. And another benefit to downplaying material goods during the holidays: Kids are less likely to experience post-holiday letdown.

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