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Handling the 'gimme' season

By Donna Krache
CNN

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(CNN) -- It's the season of giving, but all your kid seems interested in is taking. When they are bombarded with ads about the year's hot toys, it's natural for kids to want to be on the receiving end of gift-giving. But how do you handle the seasonal outbreak of the "gimmes"?

Financial, parenting and education experts offer advice for turning the holiday season into a time that helps kids learn financial responsibility and the importance of giving.

"Fifty-three percent of parents agree that their child thinks money grows on trees," says Rosetta Jones, vice president of Visa USA, which conducted a survey of parents. She encourages parents to use the holiday season to teach their children good personal finance practices.

For young children who expect presents from Santa, it's fine to preserve the magic of the season while taking the time to start very general discussions about money, with questions like "Where does money come from?" and "Why do Mommy and Daddy go to work?"

Older children can learn about the family's gift-giving budget and, with help, set similar budgets of their own. Jones suggests that older kids earn their gift-giving funds to further help them develop healthy, realistic perceptions about money.

Since kids learn by example, Jones says, parents should take advantage of everyday opportunities to engage them. "Managing money is not rocket science," she says. "It's just a matter of taking the time to use everyday experiences, like holiday shopping, to bring that education home and make it real for the child."

Dr. Istar Schwager, founder and president of CreativeParents.com, agrees. She urges parents to help kids become savvy about consuming all through the year, by teaching them to look at packages to determine what's included in them, as well as comparison shop.

She suggests that parents take their kids to the store to see if the toy they want is truly as appealing in person as it is in the ads. If a friend's child has the toy, ask if your child can try it to see if he or she really likes it. Sometimes boredom sets in faster than you think.

Schwager says that although parents are under a lot of pressure from their kids, they have a responsibility to sift through what their kids are asking for and have a "reality list."

If parents object to a toy because it's unsafe, is not age-appropriate or doesn't meet their values, they need to say so.

Kids learn from the way parents talk to them, Schwager says, and can be surprisingly realistic if they are included in the loop and spoken to honestly and sensitively. "There are nice ways of saying 'no,' and often kids are more understanding than parents may realize."

She's also a big believer in toys that have stood the test of time -- board games, riding toys, dolls and stuffed animals, blocks, puppets and other toys that challenge kids to use their imagination and play with others.

Schwager reminds parents that not everything of value has to be bought, and asks them to send the message that there's more to the season than buying things. Handmade gifts, time spent together and helping others in need make the season more meaningful for kids and offer rewards of their own.

At Lewis Elementary in Kennesaw, Georgia, the emphasis is on helping others before the holidays even start. Guidance counselors are made aware of families in the community who are going through tough times. The Student Council organizes and leads a canned and dry goods drive, followed by a new clothing drive for essentials, like socks and underwear, to help these families.

The school adorns a "Giving Tree" with paper ornaments that bear the names of gifts on the wish lists of children from the families. Students' families buy the items and the school's guidance counselors make sure they are delivered. Many other schools have similar initiatives.

Mariann Dolnick, a veteran educator at Lewis Elementary, says that this school-wide initiative is one way students learn about the rewards of giving versus receiving.

"It helps to take the focus off 'what I want,'" says Dolnick.

She's aware of the pressures parents face as they work to earn money to provide their children with material possessions, but says she has seen many students who have lots of "things" with little knowledge of the real world.

Dolnick urges parents to take time to talk to and interact with their kids.

"Give your kids real life experiences and fewer material things. There has to be a balance."

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