When Kids Act Greedy: 6 Great Ways to Handle the “Gimmes”


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I didn’t really see it coming until it hit me in the face directly.

I was having a mommy and me day with my youngest child, complete with a trip to the American Girl store that just opened up and then tea at a lovely hotel. While holding a doll named Sue I became giddy over all the little doll shoes, pint-sized picnic sets, and soccer clothes that this grand store was trying to pawn off on us. Although I’d set a fixed price before we left to commemorate our special day, I was so swept up in the moment that we ended up bringing home much more than I intended.

My middle child immediately cried foul that his sister got “soooo many goodies,” whereas he got only one souvenir from our day together earlier this summer. So he did what all good big brothers do:  he bragged that he was going to a movie and lunch with me the next day when my daughter went to her camp. This naturally sent my daughter into hysterics about how unfair it is that her brother gets everything and she gets nothing, even after my credit card was still smoking from our day’s purchases just hours before.

I stared at the two of them and realized something:  my kids are greedy.

Then I did what any good mother would do: I began to yell about how greedy they were, and informed them that there were children searching for food under the rubble in Haiti. I think the fact that my kids still wanted so much after all that they had been given put me over the edge. How could they want more?

After I calmed down I sent us all to some quiet time to figure out how to handle this ongoing issue that so many parents struggle with. Hopefully these suggestions will help you as well.

  1. Give consequences for greedy behavior. That day, each of my kids had to fill a box with 10 toys they no longer play with. A charitable group came the next week to pick up the goods. Now every time a new toy enters our house an old one has to be given away.
  2. Have your kids do a summer service project. My kids have handed out food from our church food pantry, stocked the shelves at our local emergency family assistance center, and picked extra produce from our farm to give to various food banks. This summer they are writing letters and sending care packages to soldiers overseas. This is a great way to teach kids how fortunate they are and how difficult some families have it.
  3. Be careful how much stuff enters your house. This is a rule I am always trying to follow and sometimes fail at. If it were up to my kids they would buy something every time we go anywhere. Set boundaries about how much they can buy and when they can buy.
  4. Make them earn what they want!  My teen-ager wants an X-Box so I had him research how much it costs. He is spending this summer mowing lawns and working at our farm to earn the money to buy it. He is appalled that it will take the entire summer to earn enough money, but we have explained that’s how life works. Children as young as three can be taught how to save their money, put it in the bank or continue saving if they want to buy something. If you are at Target and your child wants something, ask them:  “How much money do you have?”
  5. Talk to those people in your lives (think grandparents!) who have a tendency to over-indulge your child. Explain that you are trying to scale down the amount of “stuff” in your house. Ask them to help you with this by substituting buying something with a fun activity instead. Ideas can include going to the zoo, the library, the park, the movies, coloring, taking a hike, or whatever your family enjoys!
  6. Take things away. When my kids get extra greedy they lose privileges. Sometimes it is video games, movies, or even toys. The length of this consequence depends on how offensive the crime committed.

Most of us have kids who have an over-abundance of stuff. Between parents, grandparents, godparents, aunts, uncles and birthday parties it sometimes feels as if there is no end to the amount of gifts received!  While this may never end completely you can set boundaries with your kids (and yourself!) to show them how to live a life that isn’t centered around material goods.

Related Content:
Am I Being Too Strict? How to Safely Give Your Child More Freedom
Establishing Teen Curfews: 6 Essential Tips for Parents


Dr. Joan Simeo Munson earned her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Denver. She has worked with incarcerated individuals, families, adolescents, and college students in a variety of settings, including county and city jails, community mental health centers, university counseling centers, and hospitals. She also has a background in individual, group, and couples counseling. Dr. Munson lives in Colorado with her husband and three energetic children. She currently has a private practice in Boulder where she sees adults, couples and adolescents.

Comments (9)
  • Teresa

    Wow, Monica --

    I just checked in -- it took me several months to do so -- expecting to be lambasted by others because of our family policy on gifts -- Imagine my PLEASANT surprise to find out we WEREN'T the only family out there trying to find a different way to get those materialism messages through to our kids. THANKS for letting me know I wasn't the only one too!

    I think in this time of economic recession, it would be a great idea if more families followed through on teaching their kids more about being "other" centered -- whether it be taking food to a food pantry, serving in a church mission, or helping any number of volunteering efforts that are out there! For those that are not religious -- there are PLENTY of ways to teach selflessness without involving a church. I'm a big believer that God SHOULD come first in MY life, but I realize not everyone is big on faith.

    A real easy (but way harder than you would think) way to do that, is to take HALF of whatever you would be spending on your christmas budget on your kids, and visibly -- as in with your kids -- choose a different, humanitarian use for that money -- let your kids in on picking the worthy cause or causes. It is less painful (financially) for a family to do this, because it's money they budgeted anyway for gifts, but it is SUCH an easy way to teach generosity and selflessness.


  • Monica S.

    Teresa, I am astonished and amazed that there is someone who thinks like I do. Everyone else seems to see me as crazy regarding the no/one gift for birthdays, holidays. For two Christmases now, we have taken a family trip to visit South Africa where the family there indulges the kids (13 and 3 years old). The gift of visiting family 8,000 miles away doesn't make sense to them now maybe, but the memories are a gift the keeps on giving over a lifetime.

    For birthday parties too, (my kids have summer birthdays outside of the school year) I have asked on the invitations to friends, that if they feel the need to bring a present, to please spend the money they would have spent on canned/non-perishable food that we then take (and talk about) to the church food pantry. My older child has seen the trailer parks and knows kids at school who don't have much food. My kids receive presents from grandparents, etc. so they are seeing that there is a place for gift giving.

    I lead by example as well by volunteering on mission trips (with my older child) and bringing the younger one to the food pantry. There are working vacation trips to various countries that I look forward to doing with my kids to help others and to see the world.

    Materialism is such a difficult concept to get across to kids in today's society. I know the lessons now will lay the foundation for their future thinking in helping them become giving individuals. My parents did it for me, difficult as it was for me to understand as a child.

  • Teresa

    I read your article, and found it to be very logical and well thought out -- I would like to add some things that we do with our daughters.

    We are trying to raise them to be "other" centered, as opposed to "self" centered, and to value family time over material STUFF. Some parents may not agree with how far we have gone in this vein, but marketing to children nowadays is really out of control, and we feel like some of this "materialism" is really our fault as parents -- that we try to "buy" their love with material gifts, instead of spending our precious time with them that is far more valuable to us.

    So we have instituted most of those policies that you've listed above already. However, we have also -- get ready for it -- quit buying Christmas or birthday presents for our kids. They get enough from other people. Instead, our family tradition for birthdays is to go out to eat to the birthday person's choice of restaurant -- because spending time together is so much more important to us than stuff. And for Christmas, they give their cousins and grandparents presents, and their cousins and grandparents give them presents. That's it. They don't give us anything, and we don't give them anything during those holidays. We also don't get anything from them on our own birthdays, or mother's day or father's day. GASP! A card with a loving sentiment -- preferably homemade -- is what we do.

    I'm not saying we don't give them anything. We've just dissociated the holidays and birthdays from them. We celebrate those occasions with family togetherness, not material things -- hoping that they grow up to understand that being together in a loving family is more valuable any day than anything the material world could give them.

    For what it's worth...

  • Dr. Joan

    Hi Melody,

    Empathy is hard for ALL kids to grasp! It is something that is taught to kids by their parents and other important adults in their lives. The best way to do this is to lead by example. I am a huge advocate of showing my kids how many people have so much less than we do. It doesn't matter how much money any of us has--there's always someone out there with less. We sponsor a little girl in Africa and write her letters and send her care packages. My kids are amazed that they have no running water or electricity (what, no X-Box?). We bring our leftover toys to a homeless shelter for children. The kids buy a few cans of food for the food drive at school. There are dozens of ways to expose your kids to the lives of others. This promotes empathy and can reduce (not get rid of!) greediness.

  • Melody
    Thank you so much for your honesty and ideas. I guess I'm in delial that my kids are spoiled (as my family has said they are) because we don't have a lot of money and most of their things are hand-me-downs or "great deals". I DO know that theyMore have way too much of everything though and almost no gratitude. Unfortunately, I frequently stand in amazement at their lack of tact as they demand and whine for more and proclaim, "it's not fair!" with infuriating selfishness and fighting between each other. I'm dumbfounded by their lack of awareness at how much they really have. More is never enough and getting rid of their stuff seems to be extremely difficult; to the point of tears. I don't know how to combat that one, but to ease them through it, because we can't hold on to everything forever. In addition, empathy seems so hard for them to grasp....
  • Elisabeth Wilkins, EP Editor
    Dr. Joan, thanks for the helpful reminders. My son seems to have a case of "the gimmes" lately, too! I especially like your idea of having your kids do a summer service project, and also asking for gift cards for actitivities rather than things.
  • mominmd
    well said, useful, and entertaining! I am sure many parents can identify with this! I know I did! Thanks for writing!
  • Doyle
    Your article was delightful to read - I enjoyed the streak of humor you inserted because it described my typical reaction too! Thanks for the tips, I will put them to use.
  • Melissa A
    Great ideas! Thanks for sharing!
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