When your child just HAS to have that thing for Christmas…

When Your Child Just Has to Have that Thing

Your little darling comes to you with face lit up, a picture and product details in hand, their logic detailed into a lawyer-like brief, and begs with passion for that one special thing for Christmas. “Ok, I know exactly what I want for Christmas. I’m so excited about it! Taylor is getting one, too.”

This can be a frustrating scenario if you believe the request is either beyond your budget, or not an item you feel will benefit your child. Have you ever found yourself giving in to gift requests when your gut tells you it’s not a good idea – because at the time you can’t think of a really good reason to say no? Or just to avoid the relentless badgering? Or because in the moment your child’s delight is more important to you than what is truly best in the long run?

I recently watched a tween with passion, intensity, and a clear “marketing plan,” try to sell his mom on why he should get a particular, very expensive item – the newest, name-brand “everyone has” shoes. His mom was calm but firm, and responded wisely.

It went something like this: “Son, I can see you are really excited about this. But you know what is important to our family. We live simply so we can be generous with others. We will never pay this much for a pair of shoes. I know this is hard, but when you are an adult, you will get to decide the values by which you guide your family, and pass those onto your kids. In the meantime, if this is that important to you, you certainly can save up for them.” Her son was disappointed, but responded much more calmly than I expected he might, based on the intensity of his sales pitch.

There were two key ingredients in my friend’s thoughtful response:

  1. Clearly identified values.
    If parents don’t have and communicate clear values, kids sense their indecision and seize the opportunity. Similarly, if kids watch parents live out of a value of having the shiniest new thing or electronic gizmo, it’s going to be tough to set helpful guidelines for kids. Roy Disney, brother of Walt and co-founder of Walt Disney Productions,  wisely stated, “It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.” If you have clear values established and communicated, your decision will be easier, quicker and more confident. No waffling to invite a power struggle.

    My friend had a solid grasp on the values she and her husband had established as the basis for their family. And these values had been clearly discussed with their kids at other times. It was evident this was not new rationale for her son, and that he had seen his parents live by these values. Because of this, her son realized that arguing and whining wouldn’t get him anywhere.
  2. Focus on long term needs.
    My friend knew her son’s personality type well enough to know this was absolutely a boundary he needed. She consciously sacrificed the hugs, gratitude and warm fuzzies she would get if she granted his request, in order to give him what he truly needed – a balanced lifestyle, staying out of the competition to have the coolest stuff at school, and a purpose beyond himself. With an eye on those goals she had compassionate, but firm resolve.

[Read The Gift of Not Giving to learn what research says about kids who are given too much.]

When we know what we value in life and have helped our kids embrace those things, we have something to guide kids toward, instead of just telling them what’s wrong with their request. Stephen Covey, author of best-seller 7 Habits of Highly Effective People said, “It’s easier to say no when you have a bigger yes.” When my friend guided her son toward the bigger “yes” of their family values of simplicity and generosity, he knew she was serious, and it was important.

Discussing what’s really important in life is essential for families any time, but especially at Christmas.  Being thoughtful and proactive about a gift-giving strategy strengthens your family values. Here are some ideas for you to consider:

  • A friend of ours gave kids gifts for each of these four areas: physical skills, creativity, learning, and faith.
  • Another family keeps the lid on materialism by giving only three gifts to each child – the number Jesus received.
  • Other families give based on this rhyme, “something you wear, something you read, something you want, something you need.”

Because we knew our kids’ needs and personalities, we set the values early that the purpose of our gifts would be to develop their God-given abilities and creativity, with an ultimate goal of blessing others. So while that meant “No” to any electronics, there was a “Yes” to art supplies, interactive games, books, music or sports items. These values filled our times of opening gifts with joy and purpose!  

Consider these questions:

  • If there was a reality show camera in our home, what would it reveal about our values?
  • How might scripture and God’s calling on our family to be a blessing shape our values? How could I put those more at the center of our family?
  • How could the answers above guide my gift-giving choices this year, and how can I discuss this with my kids?

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