In our Facebook conversation a few weeks ago, it sounded like there’s a common issue with certain family members wanting everything under the sun, particularly during the holidays. It’s not perfect around here by any means, but I’ve found a few keys that help keep the “I wants” a bit at bay.
1. Limited gifts as a tradition
We’ve always done three gifts per person for Christmas, and no more. Our kids know to expect this, which means they know there’s a finite amount to the spoils they can expect.
Many other families do a “want, need, wear, read” tradition, and I dig that, too. Whatever the route you take, I find that setting—and then communicating about—a firm limit on quantity helps keep expectations realistic.
2. Avoid the stores
We very rarely take our kids inside a physical store during the holidays, and when we do, it’s more of an event-with-a-plan and not a casual browsing. Just like keeping junk food out of the house, there’s less craving when you can’t see it.
(We do have an annual tradition of giving each kid ten dollars and taking them to a local toy shop, where they each buy a gift for one of their siblings. That’s fun. We make an event out of it.)
3. No commercials
We haven’t had regular TV in quite awhile, so our kids rarely see commercials. It’s almost funny when they do—they don’t really know what they are (“Mom, can you skip this so we can watch our movie?”). There’s a difference in their attitudes when they’ve been around commercials; they’re a bit whinier and aren’t as satisfied with their toys.
Do what you can to avoid traditional TV during December, and when you do see commercials, talk about them. Verbally dissect the advertisers’ tricks of the trade and help the kids become more aware with their blatant and intentional manipulation. It seems to diffuse their power a bit.
4. I like vs. I want
Year round, we ask the kids to tell us they like something, not that they want something. So when we’re in a store, or when we’re browsing the Internet, or when we’re flipping through a catalog, or when we’re at a friends’ house, the kids know to say, “I like that car.” “I like that doll.” “I like that game.”
It’s subtle, but there’s a real difference between telling us they want something versus simply stating the fact that they like something. Heck, I’ll even verbally point out to the kids when I like something. It helps them understand that they can appreciate something without necessarily owning it, and it’s a lot easier on my ears, too.
We pick a different method of giving each year, and we get the kids involved. Some years, it’s been picking a name from a giving tree at our church, and shopping as a family for a present. Some years, we make a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child (it’s not too late; you can make one online). We also make Christmas cards for our Compassion kids each year and send them with a little extra contribution.
Giving softens their hearts. It softens mine, too. And it’s a tangible reminder that Christmas isn’t all about us.
I also love Brooke McAlary’s guide for having a good, old-fashioned clutter purge leading up to Christmas. If your house could use a bit of toy decluttering, now’s a great time to do it. If you get the kids involved, it’ll help them appreciate the less-is-more approach to toys. Mine always do after a good purging.
None of these ideas are foolproof, of course, but they’ve really helped temper the “I wants” during the holidays. The kids still make a wish list longer than they’ll ever actually receive, but that’s okay with me. Dreaming isn’t the problem, especially when you’re already grateful for your stash of toys.
Alright, your turn—I’d love to know your tricks for keeping the “gimmes” at bay!
This post was originally published on December 3, 2013.