It’s a scene that’s played up in movies all the time: kids going wild on Christmas morning, yanking gifts out from under the tree, frantically unwrapping them and then tossing them aside for the next brightly wrapped box. It might make for a funny bit, but in real life, it’s an indication of a greedy child.
“There are instincts within us as humans to want to constantly change to do better and have better things. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t have evolved,” says parenting coach Julie Romanowski. “But if we don’t put boundaries around that desire, it can easily morph into greed.”
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She says that greediness and materialism in children is largely a learned behaviour (she estimates it’s 80 per cent learned and 20 per cent instinctual), and chalks it up to a variety of influences, including parents, friends and society in general.
But it doesn’t have to be a foregone conclusion. Romanowski offers these tips for raising a child with awareness and gratitude and preventing them from turning into a gift-grabbing monster.
#1 Instil an “attitude of gratitude”
This applies just as much to the parent as it does the child. Being grateful for what you have, and being vocal about it, is the best way to deter kids from desiring a material item merely because it’s new or their friend has been talking about it.
“This will make you reflect on yourself and helps you to be a role model for your child,” she says. “Are you materialistic? What’s your attitude around material things? Do you talk about your neighbour’s nice new car or your friend’s shoe collection? Your kid is watching you 24/7 and is soaking it all in.”
The benefit to curbing your own materialism is that it’s an ongoing model, so it doesn’t just apply to this time of year. It’ll go a long way in curbing those tendencies in kids and build skills around boundaries and expectations.
#2 Set clear expectations of their behaviour
This is an etiquette conversation that applies year-round and involves an expectation of humbleness and modesty.
“Your child should know what kind of behaviour is expected of them and how they are to act at the time of opening a gift.”
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If your child is rude or reacts negatively toward the gift or the gift-giver, it’s your responsibility as a parent to step in and correct their behaviour by restating your expectations and boundaries. If, however, your child is polite and acts positively, this should also be acknowledged.
“A lot of parents fail to do the latter,” Romanowski says. “Children need positive reinforcement, not just instructions on how to behave. It’s a two-part role that has a before and an after.”
#3 Consider eliminating Christmas lists
It’s common practice to encourage children to put together wishlists for the holidays — why else would they write to Santa? But Romanowski advises parents to tread carefully with Christmas lists since they often give children the impression that they are owed the gifts they choose.
“Lists can breed greed, and they confuse the lesson that if you work hard and are good, you’ll be rewarded,” she says.
What’s worse, it can create resentment and anger in the child, who feels that their parent (or Santa) is not meeting their agenda. These are the steps that lead to materialism, greed and entitlement.
She says if you do want to uphold the tradition of making a Christmas list, make sure your child is in full understanding that it’s not a guarantee they’ll receive everything they ask for. Use this as an opportunity to teach your child the difference between want and need, and try to teach them what it means to desire something with purpose and intention. (Although she also notes it’s unlikely a young child will understand this clearly. It’s doubtful there is deep purpose behind requesting Lego.)
#4 Emphasize “give-giving” instead of gift-giving
This is something Romanowski practices with her son to balance out the underlying message of the holiday.
“Take the emphasis off getting gifts and put it on giving gifts,” she says. “Even if they’re really young they can do this. A younger kid could say, ‘I’m going to give grandma a song.’ Or if you make holiday cookies, they can make one for their cousin.”
It doesn’t mean that kids should believe they won’t be receiving gifts, but it conveys the message that there’s more to this holiday than getting toys.
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