My preschooler is a marketer’s dream. The minute he sees a toy commercial, he immediately asks for whatever flashy gizmo or game calls to him from the blinking screen. He doesn’t need to watch a commercial more than once or twice before memorizing a particular toy’s slogan and passionately reciting it to me verbatim, as if it were as grand and momentous as a Rudyard Kipling poem.
In my harried mom way, I usually tell him that I’ll think about his request and, since we’re nearing the holidays, I’ll consider putting it on his list for Santa. In truth, it’s just a simple way for me to avoid the issue, but what I’d initially considered to be a lazy procrastination tactic isn’t a bad strategy, according to Adelle Cadieux, a psychologist at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Dr. Cadieux said that creating a list can actually help manage your children’s gift expectations this holiday season — but compiling the list is just the first step.
To help your children see beyond the materialism during the holidays, consider these additional tips:
Explain to your children that they won’t receive everything on their holiday lists. Dr. Cadieux recommends comparing their wish lists to a restaurant menu, where “we might like a lot of the things that are on there, but we don’t order all of them.” It’s a good lesson for life in general: You won’t always get everything you want!
Ask your children to prioritize their lists. Decisions that involve an array of good choices — as opposed to obviously bad and obviously good options — can be especially challenging, Dr. Cadieux said. Choosing among gift possibilities will help children develop these decision-making skills early on, so ask your children to edit their lists down to five to 10 items at most.
Urge your children to think critically about toy advertising. Ask them what they like about the advertised toy and if they might already own a toy that is similar to the one advertised. Ask if they think they’ll be able to use the toys the same way that they’re used in the commercial. A 4-year-old probably won’t recognize that something looks “really cool” in a commercial might not be nearly as cool in real life — but it doesn’t hurt to at least start introducing the concept.
Choose a gift to give another child. At a young age, children are largely focused on their own needs and desires. Emphasize to your children the joy of giving by helping them pick out gifts to give someone else, whether it’s a friend or a child in need. When you’re shopping for such a gift, explain to your children what you’re doing and ask them to imagine what toy would excite another child. Don’t ask, “What do you want?” Instead, say, “What do you think he/she would like for Christmas?” Encourage your child to participate in other ways, too, such as handing the toy to the cashier at the register or helping to wrap the gift.
Suggest handmade gifts. You don’t have to buy happiness when you can make it. Encourage your children to draw pictures, sing songs and create coupon books — think “one free hug!” — to give to loved ones. Parents can provide handmade gifts to children, too, which are especially helpful when money is tight. If a child is envious of his friends’ expensive gifts, relay to him that every family is different and giving each other handmade gifts is what makes your family special this year.
Emphasize gratitude. The holiday season is one of joy. Encourage your children to find joy in what they already have as opposed to wallowing in disappointment over what they lack.
“If we’re focused on only the things that we don’t have, we’re going to be miserable,” Dr. Cadieux said. “But if we’re focused on the joys of the things we do have — the love in our life, the family, the friends — those are more important than actual things and objects.”
To donate toys to children in need this holiday season, check out:
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