- Life won't always gift your child with exactly his heart's desire
- Teach your child that showing appreciation for gifts is important
- Create excitement surrounding gift purchases for other family members
(Parenting.com)I was 7 years old when I received a tiny Christmas present -- about the size of an eraser -- awkwardly wrapped and covered in tape. My sister's boyfriend, Jeff, was visiting and had considerately brought gifts for his girlfriend's three younger siblings. Mine, though, was by far the smallest. I remember opening it up to reveal a miniature ceramic dog -- a cold, hard nothing that fit in the palm of my hand -- and thinking how unlucky I was. I gave Jeff my best cold shoulder the rest of the day.
"Emphasize that you appreciate there are many things he wants, but let him know it will only be possible to get a few of them," says Robert Brooks, Ph.D., a psychologist at Harvard Medical School and coauthor of Raising a Self-Disciplined Child. That way, you won't make him feel greedy or foolish for compiling a lengthy list, but you will set his expectations.
Help him understand that gifts are thoughtful gestures, not just a way for him to score materialistic gain, says Lerner. Anytime he receives a present, point out everything the giver put into it. If a classmate makes him a friendship bracelet, for example, say "Oh, wow -- Lucy remembered that you thought these were cool. She picked out colors she knows you like, and it probably took her a whole hour to make. That is so nice." Do this enough times and he'll get the "quality, not quantity" idea before you know it.
"The concept of hiding your own negative feelings to protect someone else's is way too complex for kids five and under," says Lerner. (Older kids get better and better but will still have frequent slipups.) So validate your daughter's feelings without responding critically, says Brooks.
Before any gift-getting occasion, prepare your child for the possibility that she may not like all her presents, but at the same time, let her know that it's still important to show her appreciation. Remind her that people put effort into trying to find her the best thing. Then devise a special cue between the two of you, suggests Lerner, that reminds her to say thank you. When you see her mouth turning down, you can clap your hands and say "Great present!" to snap her back into good-manners mode.
Before you go on any shopping trip, inform your child that you'll be hitting the mall to, say, buy gifts for his cousins. "Engage him in the process," says Lerner. "Ask him what his cousin Jane likes and which toy you should get her. Get him excited about buying for someone else." At the same time, make it clear that you won't be able to buy anything for him. Then, if your son throws a fit at the store, you can refer back to that conversation, and say something like "I know it's hard to be here when you're not getting anything, but that's the rule. Now, I really need your help finding something for Jane." Let's be honest: That might not be enough to stop his whining. But steel yourself and stay strong. Caving in will only teach him that he will eventually get his way if he complains loud or long enough.
Your weekends may be errand time, but try to avoid spending all your family moments pushing a shopping cart. That way, your kids won't think acquiring stuff is the leisure-time norm. (Don't get us wrong, though: We know those flattering jeans are sometimes an absolute necessity!) Denver mom Beth Korin says she and her two boys, ages 7 and 9, frequently head to the library, an indoor pool, or a rock-climbing gym instead. "We try to think of things we can do that don't involve hanging out in stores," she says. Prepare kids for these events the same way you would for gifts ("We're going to have a big, delicious meal with all of your favorite foods, and then we're going to play games!"). The idea you want to get across is that having experiences can be just as exciting as accumulating things (if not more).
It's easy to turn this "teachable moment" into a battle of wills -- one where you're repeating "I didn't hear you say thank you!" to your tantrum-ing child while the person he's supposed to thank is backing away in discomfort. But, explains Lerner, the fact that your son doesn't always say the words likely just means they haven't become a habit for him yet. "And getting into power struggles actually impedes the process," she says. So while you should definitely remind your kids to give thanks, it's best not to make a big deal about it if it doesn't happen.
Remind yourself to model grateful behavior. When your cookie-muncher goes silent, go ahead and say the necessary "Thank you so much!" for him. (At least until he gets older and can be counted on to follow your cues.) In your own everyday interactions, always offer warm thank-yous and praise to grocery store clerks, gas-station attendants, waiters, teachers -- anyone who's helpful to you or him. You may think your child isn't paying attention to those small moments, but he actually is.
Sympathize with her frustration, but remind your daughter that, actually, many people don't have as much as she does. How? Begin a tradition of charity work and donating. Start simple: As young as age 3, children can be encouraged to go through their belongings and pick out items to donate, says Lerner. Every year after that, they can get more involved. Last year, Gabrielle Melchionda of Yarmouth, ME, and her two sons, ages 5 and 9, volunteered to decorate low-income homes for Christmas. "It was so nice to see all of the kids, mine and those who lived there, on their bellies coloring together," she says. "Later, my kids asked things like 'Was that the whole house?' It sparked conversation for months. It was an experience none of us will forget."
Expose your daughter to people from all walks of life. "We often try to shield our children from those who are less fortunate, but it's important that kids know how lucky they are," says Dale McGowan, a father of three in Atlanta and coauthor of Parenting Beyond Belief. So the next time you see a homeless person, pass a shelter, or read a story in the news about a needy family, he suggests, ask questions -- "Where do you think that man sleeps?" or "Can you imagine what it would be like not to have a home?" -- that get your kids to put themselves in someone else's shoes. (At the same time, assure them that your family will always have a place to call home.) You'll be surprised -- and pleased -- at how often kids are moved to want to help.