My best friend recently told me that she’d been invited to a Hanukkah party where all guests are required to bring one gift for each child in attendance. She’s anticipating about 20 children, which means that each child will go home with 20 presents! This got me thinking about the challenges that sometimes come with parenting during a time where consumerism is rampant and strongly encouraged. And while us adults are the ones with the means to make these purchases, your children are not protected from the advertising and cultural messages that encourage them to want things ‘shiny and new.’ Whatever holiday you celebrate this time of year, it’s most likely that what your child associates with these winter traditions is….receiving presents.
So, how do you handle the badgering from your children, the tug on your coat every 5 minutes during holiday shopping to ask you to buy them something they see? How do you handle the “I want it!” melt-downs? Or the two page long Christmas lists? Here a list of a few parenting tips to keep you sane and to keep your child’s badgering to a minimum.
1. Prepare your children for the gift-giving season with some clear guidelines/expectations. Let them know if you want them to give you a gift list of items they like, or whether you’ll be keeping track yourself of things they ask for. If you want them to make a list, tell them how long that list can be (no more than 10 items, for example). If you take them shopping for holiday gifts, be clear about your expectations. “I know you may see things that you want while we’re shopping, and we won’t be buying any of those things today. Today we’re shopping grandpa and aunt Sue.” “You can look at things you like, but I’m not buying you anything today.” Or “If you see something you like, we can add it to your gift list, but we won’t be purchasing anything today.”
2. If you know your child will demand you buy them things while shopping and that this will cause a headache, try to make arrangements so they aren’t shopping WITH you. Do your shopping on-line. Or leave the children at home with a spouse or sitter or friend while you shop. This will decrease opportunities for your child to see new things that they want and harass you.
3. Be prepared for your child asking you for things. Telling your child that you won’t tolerate them asking probably won’t work. Determine a response and stay consistent:
“I can see you really like that toy, and we’re not going to buy that today.”
“I’ve already purchased your gifts, and I’m not able to get you more.”
“We can’t afford to make extra or un-planned purchases today.”
Or you can just ignore the request or redirect your child to something else. This can sometimes be just as effective as a verbal response.
If your child doesn’t respond to ignoring, try to validate their interest (“Yes, that is a cool toy”) and then repeat as many times as you need to that you won’t be buying it.
If your child does have a tantrum in the store, leave the store immediately. You want to minimize the attention they get for the behavior. Sit in the car with them for a cool-down period and return to the store only IF you feel they are calm and believe they won’t tantrum again. If they don’t calm down, you may have to cut your losses, go home, and make plans to shop on your own at a later time.
4. Engage your child in finding gifts or making gifts for others. If your child is focusing on what to give to someone else, they are thinking less about themselves and what they want. If you’re shopping together, ask them to help you pick out a gift for a relative or friend. Your child will enjoy being allowed to give input and will be les bored while shopping. If you have any creative inclinations, make time during the week to help your child make gifts. There are lots of easy projects for all ages online or in library books to get your child’s creative juices flowing. Your child can feel proud that they made something to give to family and friends.
5. Develop a tradition around giving/recycling used items to those in need. In my family, the day after Christmas (Boxing Day) is a day where each of us fills a box with toys/clothes we no longer want or need and we donate the items to a charitable organization. Mom and Dad participating too, with their own box, will encourage your child to fill theirs too.
6. Adopt a family during the holiday season. This is an opportunity to educate your child about there being many children who don’t have the luxury of gifts during the holiday season. Find a family to adopt and have your child help you shop for the gifts you’ll be giving to them. It’s always fun to adopt a family with child(ren) who are similar ages to your child(ren) as your child may have lots of ideas for what they might like.
Finally, “The Dont’s”
1. Don’t engage your child in a discussion about whether that’s a good toy to like or ask for. If they like it, they like it. You don’t have to like it too.
2. Don’t argue with them about why you aren’t buying them something. If you ignore, or just repeat yourself, they won’t have anything to argue with you about.
3. Don’t give in. If you can’t afford to buy something for your child or don’t want to buy something, you don’t need to just because your child is asking. Your child has the right to ask, and you have the right to say ‘no.’