Everywhere you look, there are catalogs, print ads, commercials and jingles encouraging you to “choose me” for the holidays. In the same way, supermarkets put items attractive to children at their eye level (on lower shelves), the holidays are a time when children are bombarded by TV commercials featuring all sorts of toys, board games and electronic devices. Ads and television shows depict celebrations with presents for everyone. Is your child expecting only the best and lots of it? Are they asking you for everything they see? Do you need an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of it all? As you wonder how to select the “perfect” gifts, are you beginning to be a bit concerned about your child’s “Gimmie” attitude and expectations?
You are not alone. This is a good time to teach your child about acceptance, impulsivity, delayed gratification and giving.
Acceptance takes many forms. There are increased social interactions and celebrations during the holiday season. Your child may be part of many of them. There will be situations where what your child wants and expects does not match with what they get to do or receive as a present. Start talking to your child weeks before the big day about what the holiday (and gift giving) means to you and your family. Tell them who is included in your holiday celebration. Can your child add people to the list? Are you expected to give something to everyone? Do you give homemade gifts or purchased items? When do you exchange gifts? Explaining your customs and traditions to your child is important so they know the rules and expectations. Discuss if you’re doing this because you are supposed to or because you want to. Share where your holiday traditions come from.
Do not connect receiving presents with good or bad behavior (even if Santa knows whether you’ve been bad or good). Prepare your child that they may or may not get some of the items they have been asking for and that they should accept each gift graciously.
Some traditions include exchanging all presents at one time. Some spread it out over a series of days. Some include food or clothing as gifts. For an adopted child of another culture or race, you might want to include a tradition, ritual or some aspect of your child’s ethnic background. Creating a new family tradition is another way to recognize the adoptive and blended aspect of your family.
Many children (and adults) struggle with impulsivity. During this season, just seeing an item, may make you want it. Being bombarded by so many things at one time, over and over again, for weeks at a time, is difficult to handle. Your child does not have the learned skills to manage this. Most parents find it helpful to ask their child to make a list of everything they want. They make sure to tell them they will not get them all, but by making it known what they want, they will most likely get something off their wish list. Knowing what they want also helps you to privately negotiate the list and give family and friends gift giving ideas. You might also want to tell your child, there could be surprises coming. After all, you might have some good ideas that they have not thought of for the holidays.
Delayed gratification is a learned skill. Your child will see things and want them immediately. Explaining they have to wait is never easy. Young children have the hardest time as their basic needs and demands to eat, be changed, play and sleep have been met quickly. During a time that so much attention is being placed on gifts and parties, it is harder to help your child wait. You might try distraction by playing a favorite game, saying you too hope they get it soon or agree they will get it for the holiday. Older children understand the concept of waiting, but still may have a hard time. Do not equate their behavior with getting or not getting a gift. Use a past experience where they had to wait and were pleasantly surprised (maybe a past birthday or holiday experience) as an example of why it can be good to wait.
Children are never too young to learn about giving and the holidays are a perfect time to teach this lesson. Again, discuss what the holidays mean. Talk about families and children that are less fortunate. Perhaps your child would like to donate some old toys to a local shelter or charity. You can donate last year’s “too small” coats to a local coat drive. Bring canned or shelf-stable goods to a neighborhood food pantry. Find out if a local shelter will accept homemade goods (i.e., bake cookies with your child). You can give some as gifts to family, friends, teachers, sports coaches, as well. Buy a new gift for a local hospital holiday toy drive. Older children and teens can volunteer at a local community setting. If everyone in your family gives gifts, help your child make or choose gifts for others.
Holiday “Gimmies” (and other similar situations throughout the year) can be tamed. Listen to your child and respond in a reassuring and empathetic fashion. Help them understand the difference between want and need; now and the future; and getting and giving. These lessons will help them become empathetic and productive members of society.
Happy holidays to you and your family!