This is the season when many families exchange gifts, and often those gifts are for children. In fact, the toy industry makes most of its money at Christmas. According to The Statistics Portal “statista” (see reference below) parents spend an average of $371 per child per year on toys.
How much is too much?
Blogger Dawn Davenport did her own research and reports that a middle income family with three kids spent $4000 to $6000 on Christmas gifts. The bottom line: parents spend a lot of money giving their children gifts at Christmas as well as for other holidays and events.
We live in a society many describe as materialistic, and when it comes to parenting many consider the vast majority of parents to be overindulgent. Jean Illsley Clarke and colleagues have a wonderful website simply entitled Overindulgence.com that provides researched information and advice for parents who may be concerned they are spoiling their children by being overindulgent with them.
Teach your children about giving
In addition to applying some of the suggestions from Dr. Clarke’s website, a key antidote to overindulgence is teaching kids the gift of giving gifts to others. Instead of constantly asking kids what they want for Christmas or for other holidays, parents can change that question into, “What would you like to give to others?”
As parents know, when they give to their children, they often do so as an expression of love (and yes, sometimes as a result of guilt or trying to relive their own childhoods). Parents enjoy seeing their children excited and happy because of the gifts they receive.
However, a problem can arise when children are overindulged. Children can become self-centered, unappreciative and feel entitled to more and more. Consequently, they never really quite know what is enough and ironically can feel they are ever fully satisfied.
Parents can shift the focus to encourage children to discover the joy of giving to others, but they need to provide direction and opportunities for that shift. For instance, children can be encouraged to give away some of their toys to homeless shelters, Toys for Tots or other organizations that serve children. Children can even be taught that the gift of being kind to their siblings or showing a willingness to care in some way for others gives them opportunities to experience a sense of satisfaction for contributing something of value beyond material things.
Teaching children that much more is gained by giving to others than receiving enriches their lives and nurtures their moral character. Parents can also demonstrate a willingness to give to others outside the family by generously sharing their resources with the less fortunate. They can invite their children to contribute so they, too, appreciate the value their parents place on such generosity.
Giving the gift of giving to others becomes a gift to them that lasts a lifetime.
Invitation to reflect:
- To what extent do you think you might overindulge your children? In what ways?
- If you are aware of being overindulgent at times, how clear are you about your motives? Is your giving to your children a way for you to gain a sense of joy at knowing somehow you are making them feel happy?
- What are some ways you could encourage your children to give to others? Remember these don’t have to be material gifts; helping children know the gift of themselves, their kindness, tenderness and compassion to others are powerful gifts that can build moral character in children.
Diane Wagenhals, Director of Institute for Professional Education and Development, Lakeside Educational Network