Enough Already!

Editor’s note: One of the questions most often asked by parents during the holidays is, when it comes to shopping for our kids, when is enough, enough? Here, Laura Deutsch and Heather Ouida of babybites—an educational and social group for new moms and moms-to-be—tackle the question of materialism and modern parenting.

For many families, December is associated with shopping, presents, parties, presents, food, presents, glitter, presents, religion, and of course, presents. The question of “How much is too much?” comes up a lot in our community of moms at babybites. As moms of young children ourselves, we turned to our own mothers—financial advisor Dahlia Peyserand parenting coach Dr. Karen Rancourt—for some sage advice on celebrating the season without spoiling our kids.

How can I be generous with my kids without being overindulgent?

Dahlia Peyser: I see no harm in enjoying the commercial aspects of the season. Problems arise when the consumer is purchasing for personal needs inconsistent with a healthy relationship to money: “I want my kids to feel cared for,” “I don’t want my child to be jealous of others,” “I want to give my child everything I didn’t get when I was growing up.” Most problems arise when the children absorb the parents’ conflicted attitude and begin to use spending and accumulating as a weapon.

How can I effectively deal with my child saying, “I want…?”

Karen Rancourt: Keep a running list of all these I-want items for your child and each time she says, “I want…” say, “Let’s add it to your gift wish list and then we can consider it as a birthday or holiday gift.” Then, when gift-giving time is on the horizon, you can prioritize the wish list with your child. When grandparents and others ask what they can get for your child, reference his or her gift wish list. Keeping a gift wish list for your child has several benefits: it helps him learn deferred gratification, it cuts down on disappointments, it eliminates the exchange frenzy and it helps gift givers feel that they’re giving something that is truly of value or interest to the child.

How can I encourage relatives not to overindulge my children?

K.R.: Your child’s gift givers typically think of purchasing something material, but including on the wish list events and experiences as gifts can be incredibly enriching and valuable. Think how excited your child will be to learn that as a gift, Grandma and Grandpa are taking her to the circus, or for art lessons at the museum, or to rent a boat in Central Park, or to see a Broadway musical.

How can I emphasize graciousness and gratitude when receiving gifts? 

K.R.: Prior to your son’s opening his presents, review with him the cardinal rule of accepting gifts: “Even if you are disappointed, always look at the gift giver and say, ‘Thank you!’” You can also help your child be a gracious gift receiver by handing him each gift to be opened, making sure he opens each card and either reads it himself or has it read to him.

What are some things I can do to encourage my children to want to be “gift givers” rather than just “gift receivers”?

K.R.: All kids can benefit from being provided opportunities to be the gift giver. Here’s an example: “Daddy’s birthday is coming up—what can we do to make it a special day for him?” is a very different question from, “What can we buy him?” Even if your child is too young to offer much in the way of ideas, you sharing your ideas helps build the right foundation: “We can make Daddy his favorite breakfast, we can buy him that new golf club, we can make him a birthday hat that says he’s the best daddy in the world,” and the list goes on.

How can I teach my children the importance of charitable giving?

D.P.: Carve out a special time during which everyone contributes some money into a container, and pick an organization who will receive the money. When the children are young, they should be given a quarter or a dollar. As they start receiving an allowance, the contribution should be made using their own funds. Associate this act of giving with a weekly event, such as prior to Sabbath meal, attending church or going out for Sunday dinner, so as to maintain a consistent ritual.

How I can be a good role model for giving and receiving gifts?

K.R.: Being a good model means that as the predictably ugly tchotchke from your aunt arrives every December, all your child sees from you is your appreciation. If you want to emphasize that spending time together is a valuable gift, tell your child that going to the zoo and having lunch together is what you really want for your gift. Make sure your child receives a thank-you note from you about the special time you had together. And of course when parents expect their children to act generously, they must exhibit their own dedication to a cause beyond their own home.

Laura Deutsch and Heather Ouida run the social and educational parent networks babybites and kiddybites