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"But I WAAAANT It!" 7 Positive Ways to Handle the Holiday Gimmies 

Photo by Brian McEntire / Stocksy
Photo by Brian McEntire / Stocksy

By Kim DeMarchi

“Mom, will you buy me an American Girl® doll for Christmas?” asks Mia.

“No honey, we can’t afford it this year,” replies Mom.

“Mom, PPPPLEEEEEEASE! I really waaaaaant it.”

“That’s it! I’ve had it with the whining! You should be grateful for the things you have. Mention it again and you won’t get ANY presents!”

Mia stomps off to her room and slams the door, feeling discouraged.

Sound familiar?

The pressure of holiday gift-giving, coupled with an unexpected case of Christmas greed (also known as the holiday gimmies), can create battles in our homes that aren’t fun or productive for anyone. Consider the above example: Though Mom’s point of view was valid, Mom inadvertently shut down her daughter’s excitement. The result? Mia ended up feeling bad just for asking for what she wanted.

The good news is that setting limits, saying no, and teaching gratitude to children is possible, all without unwittingly undermining their self-esteem. No, we may not be able—or willing—to buy the latest and greatest toys for our child, but it is still important to handle our children’s requests with kindness and consideration.

After all, part of the holidays is about wishing—wishing for peace, love, and joy; wishing for health and happiness in the New Year; and yes, even wishing for an American Girl doll complete with accessories, if that’s what a five-year-old’s heart desires.

So how do you set loving limits when it comes to presents? Here are some tips that may be helpful this holiday season:

1. Use an Understanding Tone When Setting Limits Around Holiday Gift-Giving

A limit-setting tone of voice that “lays down the law” too often invites a power struggle with children. Instead, use a tone of voice that expresses your empathy toward your child’s wishes. For example, “It sounds like you really, really want a PlayStation. I’m unwilling to spend that much money for one, but I’ll support you if you would like to save for it.”

2. Raise Grateful Children by Teaching Them the Value of Money

When faced with a high-priced gift on their wish lists, consider using it as an opportunity to talk about the value of earning money and saving for the things you want to buy. “If you really want a PlayStation, I’d be happy to discuss some ways you can earn enough money to buy it.” This teaches children perseverance while motivating them to find innovative ways to achieve goals for themselves. Even more important? You’ve conveyed the message that you really do care about what’s important to them.

3. Empathize with (and Get Excited About) Your Child’s Requests

“I can see why you’d want the newest PlayStation. It can do so many cool things and has all those new games!” Sometimes children are satisfied with you siding with them instead of fighting with them. After all, your child’s gift list shows you what they care about—and sometimes acknowledging their desires is enough.

4. Let Them Put Whatever They Want on Their Wish List

Here’s one idea that worked for me: When my twins were toddlers and young children, I let them keep a year-round wish list, which we hung on the wall. Inevitably, they would find things they wanted at Costco, the grocery store, the mall, just about anywhere! I would validate their longing with a smile, and tell them it could be added to their wish list when we got home. No whining, crying, begging, or negotiating.

Have your child actually write the item on their list or, if they aren’t of writing age yet, cut and paste pictures from junk mail and toy catalogs. As time passes, they will see that things they wanted six months ago they don’t really want anymore, and those can be crossed off the list. This only works, however, if they know it’s a wish list, and not a Mommy-must-buy-this list.

Photo by Steve Debenport / iStock
Photo by Steve Devenport / iStock

5. If Teaching Kids Not to Be Greedy Is a High Priority, Make a Global Family Wish List

This is especially effective with older children. Here’s how it works: Have everyone in the family brainstorm at least one idea on how they would make the world a better place. Then, as a family, agree on one of the ideas and actually implement it in the coming year. For example, if the family agreed on ending hunger, perhaps your entire family would volunteer to serve meals to homeless people. A global wish list truly reflects the holiday gift-giving spirit, and grows a sense of gratitude in your children.

6. Make a Holiday Gift-Giving List with Your Children

Who do we want to give to this year? Who do we appreciate? What do we value? How do we want to show our gratitude? Your child may include family, friends, teachers, neighbors, coaches, or even community service workers. Let them think about the gift-giving list and then help them decide what they want to do for each one. Of course, they will automatically think of buying them gifts. Help them see that there are additional ways to show we care, such as:

*  Homemade gifts such as bookmarks, photo frames, jewelry, baked goods, and flowers from the garden

*  A gift of time, such as a gift card for a Jamba Juice and library visit, coupon for a day hike to Silver Falls, or a trip downtown to the Saturday Market

*  A gift of service, such as a book of homemade coupons (e.g., “Good for one hug,” “Good for playing a game of your choice,” “Good for helping you garden”)

*  Written gifts such as cards, poems, letters, and drawings

7. Talk with Your Family About Your Values and What’s Important During the Holidays

Really think about what will work for your family and what you want the holidays to be about for your children. That helps you focus on the traditions and values you really want to instill on the holidays—and keeps you focused during the less-than-stellar moments. Be honest and create your holiday for your family.

Happy holidays!

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