How to Avoid Spoiling your Child this Holiday Season





Falling snow. Hot chocolate. Good cheer to all.

The Winter holidays bring out a lot of good in people. It also brings out a lot of other things, like stress, desperation, and pocketbooks. Today’s parents are especially prone to showing their love for their children with an bonanza of presents that goes on and on. At best, they buy a lot of things that they can well afford but that their children don’t really need. And at its bleakest? Just read the business section to see the latest figures for personal debt and bankruptcy.

What can a parent do when the holiday spirit grabs and just won’t let go?

Hold onto your budget. If you’re in debt, don’t let this last week of Christmas shopping dig your hole even deeper. There’s no good reason to let holiday gift-giving do you financial harm.

Remember your priorities. Remind yourself of the other things you need money for, maybe night school, or a bathroom remodeling, or just to keep up a small rainy day account for emergencies. Beware that the rush of the final shopping week doesn’t set you back or utterly derail your saving for things that matter more in your life and your family’s.

Hang tough. When the enthusiasm and fatigue of holiday shopping get to you, it is all too easy to buy a little or a lot more. Stay mentally tough and keep asking yourself, “Do the children really need this? Will they really use this? Is it really worth all that money? Haven’t I already bought enough?”

Think quality not quantity. How many gifts do children need to feel loved or remembered on the holidays? Probably far fewer than they will get. For example, stocking stuffers used to mean little curiosa and candies to decorate the mantel the night before Christmas. You know something is wrong when you can’t fit your stuffers in the stocking or when you need a credit card to pay for them. Are $59 videogames really what stocking stuffers are all about? Resist that nagging doubt to keep buying one more thing.

Look in the parenting mirror. Children who are over-indulged on the holidays are often the same children who are overindulged the rest of the year. There’s no better time to readjust your parenting and get some good unspoiling going than during the holidays. No child ever suffered from having a reasonable season of gifts. Getting too much, on the hand, can spoil.

Keep the spirit away from your wallet. Watch that nostalgia for the holidays of your childhood doesn’t open your pocketbook as much as your heart. The holidays have limited religious meaning. Corporate forces have singlehandedly turned them into industries.

Teach the true meaning of giving. Our children tend to have learned all too well how to get and take. Engage your child in holiday baking for neighbors, helping to gather and deliver clothing and food for shelters, inviting them to help you shoulder-to-shoulder do for others

The holidays can sweep us all up and lead us to buy and give too much, especially in the whirlwind of the last week. For all of their wonder and joy, however, they are just days. Resist. See the holidays for what they are and what you, in your heart, would like them to be. Use this last week to reflect. Remind yourself of the true lessons and meanings you’d like your children to receive. Above all, holidays are a golden opportunity for you to personally transform, to move closer to the ways you want to live and parent. Oh, and don’t forget to give yourself a little gift from me – maybe some holiday sanity?


Harvard Medical School psychologist Richard Bromfield, Ph.D. and author of How to Unspoil Your Child Fast: A Speedy, Complete Guide to Contented Children and Happy Parents (Sourcebooks; ISBN: 978-1-4022-4206-9; TP $14.99; September 2010) is ready to help you feel more confident and parent more consistently while instilling character and self-reliance in your children.

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