I was so shocked when I read about Christmas in the 1860’s when I was in 4th grade. They had so little but the way Laura Ingalls Wilder described it in Little House on the Prairie made it sound like the gifts were beyond her wildest dreams. A handmade doll and a stick of peppermint made it the best Christmas ever! Really? She hadn’t even dared to hope for a doll. So, why didn’t my Mom tear up at the Cuisinart my Dad gave her?
Growing up, somehow the whole gift giving affair fell short when compared to the old stories when people had next to nothing and appreciated everything. “Next to nothing” — maybe that is the defining factor. Entitlement in kids wasn’t something parents worried about very often — if ever. Sometimes I feel like I’m living in the Dr. Seuss book, The Lorax. The Christmas TV specials and Thanksgiving advertisements begin to appear around Halloween. That’s when I begin to feel like the world fills up with “Once-lers” who cut down the Truffula trees to make the Thneeds, “which everyone needs.” The story of The Lorax mimics the advertising brilliance of creating a need in people for things they wouldn’t consider owning at all.
So why do kids want more stuff when they already have so much? The Thneeds were not needed, but the Once-ler created a need in the same way advertisements do on TV. Part of it is watching kids at school walk in with the “newest” fad. Not wanting to be left out, to be included, they think they need it too. “Stuff” can become a doorway to social acceptance, envy, or respect in the same way it is for adults. To look at it another way, if you ask a couple what was the best piece of furniture they have, inevitably it would be the one they saved and worked for the longest. If you have everything, why would one more piece of furniture make a difference? If you go out to eat all the time, doesn’t it lose the excitement, the specialness? It can set your expectations higher because you have more to compare it to. You may become harder to please.
So how do we deal with that sense of entitlement? And how do we teach gratitude to our kids? Here are 5 things you can do as a parent to combat “the gimmes” and work to create a sense of appreciation in your kids. (They may not be grateful now, but this is the kind of lesson that can sink in over time.)
1. One idea is to set up certain expectations. As James Lehman states in the article: I Want It Now!” How to Challenge a False Sense of Entitlement in Kids, you don’t have to buy what your child wants each time. Instead, you can say: “Let’s think of a way to help you earn these things.”
2. We used to have our children save money in a special jar all year. Before Christmas, we would all go to a toy store and they would buy something for a child and leave it either at the store or take it to a place that distributes toys to children who otherwise wouldn’t receive one. It’s hard work saving money and it also helps to teach the value of money.
3. Have a family conversation about gift giving that is age appropriate. This could entail limiting gift giving to homemade gifts, time spent doing something together, poetry and music. Reaching an agreement and understanding about the number of gifts, types of gifts, or even REASON for gifts can be really helpful.
4. Keep it simple. Holidays can be so stressful for everyone, from the perspective of preparations, finances, extended family and “appearances” as in behavior. It was exhausting to make Thanksgiving dinner by myself in between work and school schedules each year. So, we split up the courses so everyone in the family made certain dishes and pies each year. We all contributed and therefore appreciated how much effort goes into making a feast. It was also a wonderful way to share and laugh through preparations!
5. Share doing the dishes. It can end up being a wonderful platform for communication.
In a world where entitlement, advertising and “too much” has become the norm, we can take charge of our individual celebrations. We don’t need to accept the status quo. We can design and determine how and why we celebrate.