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Harvard Commentaries
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Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

A Parent's Life A Parent's Life

Do Your Kids Have the Holiday 'Gimmes'?

September 12, 2013

By Henry H. Bernstein D.O.

In the midst of the holiday season, advertisements for toys and other gifts are everywhere. In the face of this media blitz, it is not surprising that many kids develop a case of the "gimmes." At the end of a long day, it may seem easier to get out our credit cards than to stand in the middle of a crowded mall and argue with a demanding toddler (or teenager). Of course, we do not want to disappoint our children, but many parents wonder how they can get their children to stop whining and begging for so many toys.

Here are some suggestions that may help curb the holiday "gimmes." Remember, however, that this problem took some time to develop, so don't expect it to go away overnight.

Mean what you say. Do not say "no" if you are going to change your mind later on, and say "yes" when your child whines and begs long enough. It is better to say "maybe" if you think you might give in later.

Make gifts. Help your child make, rather than buy, gifts for others. For example, children can make food gifts or can give coupons for their services such as baby-sitting, shoveling, or leaf-raking.

Go beyond gifts. Look for ways to celebrate the holidays that do not involve buying gifts. Do things that will leave lasting memories and may even become an annual tradition. For example, go caroling, watch a favorite holiday movie together, or make and decorate cookies.

Be a good role model. Children learn best by watching those around them. Be sure to set a good example with your own holiday gift-giving behavior. Stay within your budget, make things if possible, and spend time with others to brighten their holidays.

Teach your child to prioritize. Let your children make a wish list with a limited number of items. Make sure they understand that they will not get everything on the list and have them prioritize the items.

Focus on giving to others. Have your child help you pick out and wrap gifts for other people. Show your child the importance of giving to others, especially those who are less fortunate. Help your child sort through his or her toys and clothes to look for things to share with those in need. Volunteer to serve a meal at a local shelter. Plan a party for children at a homeless shelter. Sing carols at a nursing home.

Budget wisely. Set a household budget for gift-buying and stick to it. Let your children help to decide who will get gifts and approximately how much you will spend on each person, including your children. It is important for children to realize that the money you spend on them is not available for other things.

Open carefully. Avoid the all-at-once gift-opening frenzy. Take enough time so that your children realize exactly what they have gotten and from whom. Teach your children to say thank you right away if the gift giver is in the room (or write thank-you notes within a few days).

Turn off the TV. Cut down on your child's exposure to advertising by limiting the amount of television he or she watches.

Henry H. Bernstein, D.O., is a senior lecturer at Harvard Medical School and the chief of general pediatrics at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. He is the former director of primary care at Children's Hospital Boston.

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