6 Ways to Get Through the Holidays Without a Spoiled Child

Nov. 8, 2016

How to teach gratitude and joy without overspending.

Spoiled milk can be chucked in the garbage pail. Spoiled kids are not so easy to fix. And the holidays don't help the grateful spirit when there's so much "gimme-gimme" in the air.

The holidays are joyous. Deals are everywhere. New gadgets are all the rage. And every day new catalogues are being sent by the box load to your front door. What is an eager to please parent (or grandparent) to do? Whether you can afford it or not, indulging kids is a bad choice. Overdoing it with gifts sets up a bad precedent for the future and could start your child on the path of acting spoiled.

>Find extra holiday help to keep your spirits bright this season. 

This is the season to reinforce your values, deflect spoiling and avoid a house full of useless gifts. Here are tips from the experts on how to celebrate and make the kids cheer but stay grounded.

1. Set Limits

Kids truly want boundaries. As much as they scream and whine and throw their toys across the room, they depend on you to be the parent, and create rules. Set limits for yourself as well as your nanny and family members as to the cost and number of gifts your children will receive. "Avoid hurt feelings throughout your extended family by asking them to buy part of a larger gift," says Susan Newman, Ph.D., author of Little Things Long Remembered: Making Your Children Feel Special Every Day. If you plan to buy your daughter a bike, ask Grandma to pitch in for the helmet and Nana to buy the elbow guards. This way, no one has to worry they are coming up short with a less than fabulous gift and your child will always associate his or her new train set, doll house, iPad, as coming from everyone they love.

2. Choose Meaningful Presents

Companies spend billions in advertising to your kids, especially during the holiday season. "Kids are going to ask you for many toys that dazzle them, but it's important to give them an item that speaks to an enduring interest," says Dr. Newman. If your daughter is enthusiastic about exploring the outdoors, she might truly appreciate a rock tumbling kit rather than the singing slippers she saw on television.

3. Give Back

"Incorporate charitable giving into your holiday routine," says Robi Ludwig, Psy.D. There are so many ways you can involve your child directly in helping others and teach them how good that feels. Sort through last year's winter coats and toys that have faded out of rotation and ask them to help choose which ones will be given to a children's organization. Have the kids join you at the toy or clothing store - and select items for kid's charities. Keep the spirit alive all year by asking all family members to place lose change in a jar. Come December everyone gets a say in what charity deserves the money.

4. Create Family Rituals

All of those new toys and clothes seem so exciting in the moment! But two weeks from now? Not so much. "Push the clock ahead 20 years and it is amazing that every adult will tell you not about the 30 gifts piled under the tree, but about a quirky thing their family did on the holidays," says Dr. Newman. "Kids truly want your time more than anything wrapped in a pretty box," says Dr. Ludwig. It might be a family prayer, movie night, hike, spontaneous adventure or group-effort apple pie baking. Even if your kids someday remember that the package of flour exploded in the kitchen and took weeks to clean up, it will be something special shared between you.

5. Give for the Right Reasons

Whether you got a train set for Christmas or a new doll each Hanukkah, your past should not influence what you buy your kids. Just because you loved that rocking horse, doesn't mean your toddler will any remote interest in it. And please, don't give gifts out of guilt. "It will never work!" says Dr. Newman. Kids simply want your attention.

6. Model Gratitude

Your two-year-old daughter drinks seltzer because you have it with every meal. Aside from your eating habits she's also listening to every little thing you say, or don't say. So when you open a gift, Always express appreciation. Then point out something special about it, even if it's not something you really love. "Get back to the message of your holiday," says Dr. Ludwig. "Teach your kids that there is more to gift giving and what is the real reason behind all of the festivities."

Tips and stories from parents and caregivers who’ve been there.

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