Avoiding the Greedy Gimmes

By tj wierenga         As parents we want to make memories and see the glowing smiles of our children on Christmas morning.   Adding peer pressure to the mix, we don’t want our child to be the only one in class who doesn’t have a particular new toy. Unfortunately, children can easily become accustomed to getting most everything they want… and therefore their expectations can easily lead to greed. When this happens, opening gifts becomes a fast-paced ripping open of gifts, both small and large.  This leads less to gratitude and more to a sense of the “gimme’s.” Not our point at all!      In today’s economy, children’s expectations of “Beyond Abundance” when it comes to gifts can prove quite disappointing, as can this display of negative character habits. Thus, we look for ways to help our children either maintain or gain a “giving unto others” perspective.   “What are you GIVING for Christmas?”      One of the best ways to teach kids to be thankful and appreciative is to teach them to give to other people. As early in the season as feasible, begin a gift list noting what your children will make or buy for each person on their list. Homemade gifts are especially appreciated by extended family, and can consist of anything from food (cookies or candy, recipes in a jar, or specialty breads) to decorations, framed photographs or artwork. Type in “holiday crafts for kids” on any internet search engine for tons of ideas.      Along this line, giving your resources or time to others in a volunteer capacity is a great opportunity to develop good character in our kids. “Operation Shoebox” is a great example of something that doesn’t take a lot of money but can make a big difference in the life of a less-fortunate child. There are many local opportunities for giving and volunteering; check them out!      Consider having your children clean up and donate their outgrown or unused toys to a local shelter or family. Not only will this prove the “less is more” mentality, but you will be helping others and cleaning clutter as well.   “It’s a family thing” Discuss as a family, if appropriate, your budget (or limit) for gifts. Discuss saving as a family for bigger ticket items, demonstrating to children that parents don’t automatically get everything they want either. Look through the toy catalogs together and talk about the prices with your kids.   “It’s our tradition”      Focus on family traditions rather than gift expectations – make or purchase an Advent calendar, set aside a day or weekend to make decorations for the home or tree, bake cookies or pies to give to others, watch special holiday movies, review as a family your past holiday photos or holiday scrapbook, go on special outings, read together and enjoy story-telling (how about holiday plays for the whole family?). Family memories will last much longer than the excitement of any one particular gift… with the possible exception of a pony.   “Helping them earn it”      Reward-based giving may be perceived as “buying” your kids’ good behavior, but the idea is to encourage good behavior on a repetitive basis until it becomes a habit. As Paul Myer wrote, “An action repeated becomes an attitude realized.” And from Frank Crane, “Habits are safer than rules; you don’t have to watch them. And you don’t have to keep them either. They keep you.”      An example of reward-based giving might be to have a chart or calendar posted in a central family location, and to give a child a point for chores performed, desired actions performed (especially those actions initiated by children – such as voluntarily taking out the trash, helping a sibling with homework, etc.), or other behaviors desired by parents. At the end of each day or week, points are tallied and activities, gifts or other rewards are dolled out by parents. To tie this in to holiday giving, you might set a specific number of points as the “purchase price” for an item requested by the child, for a month or two before Christmas or a birthday. Perhaps “Santa”, parents or grandparents may give the child one or two gifts outside this reward system, but the remainder of a child’s “loot” might be based on the system.      Consider an allowance of $1/year of age per week or month (or whatever you can afford), with the understanding that kids can buy gifts for others out of the money they earn. Young children can find a good assortment of gift ideas for family and friends at “dollar stores.” Find what works best for your family… many families believe that kids should have their normal assigned chores simply as part of being a member of their family, without remuneration; in this case you might come up with extra chores, assigning 50 cents or $1, or whatever the extra chore is worth to you. Certainly teaching children to appreciate a reward for a job well done will be a good lesson for future life as a wage-earner.        If we expect our kids to recognize and appreciate what we do for them, even in the area of gift-giving, we must make the point of recognizing and appreciating their own efforts.  SFM       Sow an act...reap a habit; Sow a habit...reap a character; Sow a character...reap a destiny. --George D. Boardman             TJ Wierenga and her family live in Billings, where they are currently working feverishly on family crafts and hand-print reindeer to be ready in time for Christmas giving.