Last year I was honored to be asked by the Central Virginia Family Guide to write an article on “Avoiding the Overload (a.k.a. quit spoiling your children) I’ve been saving this to post strategically the week before Black Friday because in essence….it’s the anti Black Friday theory. I’m not against saving money…good golly I’m not against that. I’m ONE HUNDRED MILLION TRILLION QUADRILLION PERCENT against excess and spoiling. An epidemic amongst our culture. I too am also guilty of it and continue to have honest conversations with myself sometimes daily. Please join me in this worthy pursuit to raise grateful children.
“Mine” and “More”
Two cringe inducing words that children need no help learning or demanding when it comes to “stuff”. As parents we work hard trying to instill a sense of gratitude and appreciation in our children as soon as they can utter the words “thank you”, and yet we find ourselves blushing at Christmas or birthday parties when we see our children fall into a “present trance” ripping open box after box with little to no reaction; let alone gratitude leaving their mouths and faces.
We live in a society of “stuff”. So much stuff our closets, basements, attics and playrooms are positively bursting at the seams. Inside we wrestle with a sense of guilt because we know our children really only play with 5-10% of what they posses. Cough cough…sounds a little like adult garages, attics and closets. Is it possible to trade in the tidal wave of presents in exchange for the calmer waters of satisfaction, gratitude, and perhaps even “giving away” instead of receiving? I think we can.
We have three children ages seven, six, and three. We are familiar with the insatiable present hunger that can manifest itself at Christmas or on their birthdays. I wanted to crawl in a hole one Christmas when my daughter flatly stated after opening her mound of gifts, “Is that it? I didn’t get that much stuff.” Somewhere in the universe a record scratched.
OR THE FACE YOU MAKE WHEN YOUR CHILDREN ARE UNGRATEFUL BRATS!
Although my gut instinct was to throw everything in my trunk and return it, I realized the problem wasn’t her, it was me. We created her blood thirst for things and we can “un-create” it with some “stuff detoxing”.
We in no way have arrived to the sweet land of gratitude but I have seen, by making some serious changes a few years ago, that their attitudes have significantly shifted and we are definitely going in the right direction. Cue clapping hands emoticons.
Let’s tackle Christmas first.
For us, our faith plays a pivotal role in how we approach this holiday. We practice Advent for the four weeks leading up to Christmas. The purpose of Advent is to prepare our hearts for the gift of Jesus. It is something we discuss EVERY day leading up to Christmas. How can we think of and “gift” others during this season?
Be aware of your dialogue with your kids. Saying things like, “Can’t you wait until Christmas Day for presents?” or “Be good or you won’t get any presents!” is an extremely confusing message. Getting children to think bigger than just Christmas DAY is very important. Continue to emphasize the joy of the SEASON and the focus of thinking of and giving to others as most important. Kids will get on board and think of some awesome ideas on how to bless others when challenged to do so. (cards, treats to neighbors, food for families in need, making gifts for friends, caroling, visiting nursing homes etc…) There are great ideas online for families during Christmas that are very budget friendly.
A few other suggestions:
– Have your kids purge their own toys and clothing on December 1st. I have been blown away by what my kids willingly put in a bag to give away to children in need or to donate. Teach them less is more and how to be good decision makers about what is most important. Take them with you when you donate, it’s important they see the process all the way through.
– Ring the Salvation Army bell as a family or a group of families. Take a shift at the Soup Kitchen downtown together.
– GIVE! We have a very limited budget for Christmas gifts on purpose. We match penny to penny on gifts as we do to giving by partnering with World Vision. Our kids sit with us and look through their catalog with monopoly money so they can tangibly understand spending. They pick out what they want to “buy” as far as farm animals, medicine, school equipment, etc… They LOVE this! World Vision has kid friendly videos on their site to explain to children how their giving works. This has been a major eye opener to them as they learn what REAL need is and why we don’t give them but a few things each Christmas because there are greater needs in the world. Great family lesson!
– Get grandparents, uncles, aunts, friends on board! I hear my friends talk about how their parents “spoil” their kids rotten on Christmas. Although I know it is well intended, it does more harm than good. You need to have honest conversations with the “spoilers” in your life. Tell them at this point, when your children are young, you are really trying to shape their character and need to work together as a team at Christmas time. It’s okay to set boundaries on giving.
-Think outside of the box. I heard of a family that gives no presents at Christmas time but instead gives a large envelope to their children with 12 individual envelopes inside filled with one adventure a month for the whole year, one of which is a major family vacation. What an awesome investment not only on your wallet to spread out the cost over 12 months but this is exactly what our children want above else, OUR TIME.
Now let’s address birthdays.
– Taking our cue from Christmas and continue to address the “spoilers” in your children’s lives. Encourage them to take your child on a special date rather than giving them more stuff. My parents once took my older two children to a local hotel that had an indoor pool for one night. Every time we drive by the hotel….EVERY TIME…they STILL talk about how that was “The BEST time ever.” Time and face to face events will ALWAYS trump a gift.
– When I send out invitations I always give gift suggestions. This might not meet etiquette standards but it has saved me a lot of headache after the party. There is nothing worse than your child receiving ” A Lego guy, A hot wheels pack of cars, A Playmobil boat, A Polly Pocket, A Barbie, A this…..A that…..” Next thing you know you have started brand new veins of toys. Instead I let people know, “Hey, this is what they are really in to now and we would love to keep adding to that collection or series instead of starting them on new toy line.”
– For each toy my children get, I have them purge a toy in it’s place. Our house didn’t magically get bigger since their last birthday so they need to choose what needs to be purged to make room. Chances are they have outgrown many toys so this will be painless. Start your Christmas donation boxes early!
– Delayed gratification is not a dirty word. Our daughter told us last year that she wanted an American Girl doll for her birthday. I naively did not realize that I would have to sell my last born in order to pay for this doll. I had to have a conversation with her that went something like this.” Chloe, you don’t really play with dolls that often and an American Girl doll is very expensive. You will have to show daddy and I over the next year that you really do like dolls and will play with them for us to consider buying you one.” So she did. For a year she took a small baby doll she owned and carried it around, took care of it, made sure we saw her paying attention to it. FOR A WHOLE YEAR. When it came time to plan her birthday we revisited the American Girl doll again. I reminded her that this was an extremely expensive toy and if she really wanted it then she needed to know that it would be her ONLY gift and that we were going to have a small party at our house with no bells and whistles. She decided on her own it was worth it. So that is what we did. One doll and a bare bones 7th bday party. They had a blast and she loves her doll. It was a good lesson for her on many levels.
We let her open it up the night before her party. Priceless……
Pulling the plug on the volume of gifts given in your home and shifting the emphasis to simplicity, giving, and thinking of others will require YOU, the parent, to be disciplined in spending and standing firm on your new normals. You are sure to receive resistance but consistency always wins. The JOY of giving will eventually sink in to their little noggins and you and others will reap the benefits. This isn’t easy but I can assure you that you are investing in your children’s character and teaching them early on what is important in life. A thankful and thoughtful child makes a thankful and thoughtful adult. Now that won’t make you blush!