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Q. My kids want everything they see for Christmas -- and it's all expensive electronics and games and sports equipment. They are 9 and 13. Is this normal for their age? Also, how much is too much? If we can afford it, should we give it? Where should parents draw the line? The boys are not ungrateful, and they do use the toys they ask for.
A. Your children's wants as they anticipate their pile of gifts under the tree on Christmas morning is typical of most kids. Between TV and internet advertisements coupled with all the talk among peers about the newest gadgets and games each just has to have, no child can resist wishing and hoping for it all from "Santa".
Your children can't provide themselves with any limits for Christmas gift giving; you must be the one to supply it. How much is enough and how much is too much, only you can decide. What do your values dictate? What seems right to you?
You might decide on giving one expensive gift and two less expensive gifts to each child. Another approach might be to buy each one piece of electronic or sports equipment, a game and a piece of clothing. Decide in your mind what seems reasonable and financially realistic to you and your budget. Then begin to lay the groundwork, preparing your kids for what's to come Christmas morning.
Every time either mentions something he really wants for Christmas, insist he write it down. Keep the lists on the refrigerator. As the list grows, offer some reality checks in the form of, "Boy, this list is getting mighty long. I know your wishing for all these items, but you might want to prioritize the gifts you're hoping for. Remember, Santa only brings three presents to each child."
It's natural for children to expect instant gratification. They see something; they want it, receiving it for Christmas is the easiest way to get it. While no parent wants to take away the joy of Christmas surprises, giving it all, giving whatever a child wants or demands doesn't serve children well in the long run.
Children, who learn to delay gratification of their needs and wants, working, saving and waiting for a cherished possession, seem to do better in life. So, if after Christmas either of your children doesn't receive something they expected, after the disappointment passes, guide them to earn it. They can do chores at home, for grandma, or for a neighbor. The money they save is theirs to buy what more they were hoping for on Dec. 25th.
Also, encourage and expect your children to buy presents for others. With their allowance money teach them to budget and plan for gift giving. Doing so will provide them with the joy of giving along with some understanding of the dilemma parents face as they attempt to satisfy each child for the much anticipated gift opening on Christmas morning.