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Should you spoil your kids this Christmas?

When we shower our kids with gifts this festive season, are we creating happy holidays or spoilt brats?

17 December 2013
by Kate Sidley

‘Tis the season to be jolly, but for parents, ‘tis also the season to be rather conflicted. We want our kids to be happy on Christmas morning, to open their gifts with delight. We want them to have happy memories of their childhood Christmases. And no-one wants to see a disappointed little face when gifts are opened. But are we overdoing the gift-giving? Where does “treating” end and “spoiling” begin? Are we creating a generation of spoilt little monsters?

When is it too much?

Yes, it’s definitely cause for concern, says Melanie Hartgill, a Johannesburg-based educational psychologist and mother of two. “Spoiling children creates all sorts of problems. I see children growing up with a sense of expectation and entitlement, who become demanding and ungrateful.” Hartgill says that spoiling children creates problems beyond gift-giving, as overindulged children start to be unreasonably demanding in other areas of life, too.

Parents might think that they are doing the best thing for their children by keeping them constantly satisfied and lacking for nothing, but that is not necessarily the case. Think back to your own childhood. Many of us remember the anticipation as Christmas approached, the excitement, the high hopes that a certain much longed-for item might be under the tree. That excitement is lost to the overindulged child. “I know kids who can’t even create a Christmas wish list because they have so much,” says Hartgill. “They don’t have to wait for anything.”

Keep treats for special occasions

When every whim is catered for, a child loses the opportunity to think about what they want and need, to express desires, to choose between options, to experience anticipation, to have their desires met and to feel the disappointment when they don’t get what they want. It can also send the message that a constant stream of gifts is what shows that they are loved and valued. When children constantly receive gifts and treats, these things lose their impact. The thrill of a small, unexpected treat or reward – a chocolate, blowing bubbles – is lost. Think about your own life: if you get a cappuccino once a week it’s a lovely treat. Every day? It’s just part of life.

Christmas offers a wonderful opportunity to introduce children to the delights of giving. In most families, children are the primary receivers, and are often left out of the giving. There is a lot to be said for involving children more fully in the planning, shopping or making of the gifts.

Choosing a gift is an opportunity to think about the special people in our lives. What are their interests? What do they need or want? This focus can be very positive for children, as they can learn that real giving involves love and thought, not just money.

“Choosing or making a gift teaches generosity, and encourages children to think outside of themselves, to look at things from someone else’s perspective and recognise another person’s interests,” says educational psychologist Melanie Hartgill. “There’s an immense sense of satisfaction knowing that you’ve found the right thing for the right person, and knowing that it’s going to be appreciated.”

The real spirit of Christmas

The Christmas spirit doesn’t need to stop at gifts. Children can make cards and gift tags, or decorate plain paper with Christmassy pictures. Get them involved in wrapping the gifts and writing the cards.

Christmas also presents opportunities to consider other, less fortunate people, advises Hartgill. “From the time my son was young, we have always done a clean out before Christmas. We donate clothes that he’s grown out of and toys that he doesn’t play with anymore to charity. I make sure that we only send good quality hand-me-downs. He enjoys the thought that other children will be enjoying the things that he no longer needs.”

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