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Be Cautious About Giving Too Much

Jul 17, 2011 | By Harvey Craft

Young girl getting a giftChildren always want more than they need. Above all, kids need parents who love them. But parents can do more harm than good by expressing their love with gifts leading kids to confuse gifts with love.

The joy of giving gifts to children has two positive aspects: children feel good by receiving gifts and parents feel good by knowing they have made their child happy. It sounds simple and harmless, but there is an unfortunate caveat in the process. Understanding it and an allowing it to guide a parent's giving is a vital key to raising a caring, happy child.

Giving Gifts can Backfire in an Unexpected Way

The unexpected, rarely understood danger of giving gifts to children, or anyone, is that givers are reinforced to give by the good feeling they receive from seeing others pleased by their actions. This is a normal and very human response, but it also helps explain why so many people over-gift. One might give more to feel even better, and a problem ensues.

Most people have seen a two- or three-year-old at a birthday party or Christmas with more presents than could be practically used. Some wise parents will put a few gifts away and bring them out over later weeks and months to prolong the surprise.

If children grow up being immersed in gifts there are implications for emotional development. Specifically, children can develop expectations that the world operates by material rewards. There are other gifts that can be given by parents that are free and of greater importance than things. Children must learn that they have value as people; that their true worth comes from how they can contribute to their communities and how the time they devote to friendships are important. Parents give children gifts by giving their own time to children through guidance and conversation.

Giving to Impress

Shopping cart full of giftsA healthy parent-child relationship does not become healthy because parents shower children with gifts. Neither do parents help the relationship by trying to impress the child and the neighbors with gifts that are unreasonably expensive or too adult-oriented. Parents should not feel that they need to convince others of how much they love their children.

There is no greater complement to a parent than to have children who represent the family well away from home with good manners and appropriate behavior. They don't have to be wearing expensive jeans or the latest sneakers to accomplish that. A valuable lesson that can serve a child early is that clothes and belongings should not define the worthiness of a person.

Children do not need to feel that they are better than other children and therefore they receive better stuff. It encourages children to be boastful and malign the belongings of others. Of course it continues to enhance a child's sense of materialism.

It is good for parents to assess their giving and ask where it is leading. If Dad spends two hundred dollars on an iPod for his six-year-old son, where will Dad go from there? One can understand a six-year-old wanting the iPod, but it is more important that the child learns lessons in managing disappointment, as disappointment will be a real part of everyone's life eventually and for life.

Guilt About Using Your Best Judgment

Unhappy child from not getting his own wayWhen things go wrong and children seem unhappy because they can't have what they want, parents should be well-braced against guilt and manipulation. Even the best of children can be artful at making parents feel responsible for their loss. Children should have a realistic idea of what parents can and cannot afford, and there is no shame or blame if parents use their better judgment and tell a child that the desired thing will have to wait.

Children are pretty good when it comes to getting over disappointment if they are sure of parental love. Parents must believe that love cannot be replaced by material things. Also, a child's love and respect cannot be purchased, but it can be had for in exchange for love and friendship.

Parents should not give in to the "it's not fair" routine. They are repeating what they've heard. To not have a thing is not, or should not be, about fairness anyway. It is about limiting intrinsic rewards, being able to afford things, learning to manage disappointment, and it's about parents being willing to confidently and kindly tell children that they know what's best.

Children need to have some understanding of poverty. Involving them in activities that help children in economically depressed homes helps develop sensitivity to a real problem, and can give them a better appreciation for being fortunate to have the parents and positions they have.

Children love to receive and parents love to give, but parents should establish realistic limits on gift-giving and children should understand why they cannot have everything they want. Valuable lifelong lessons of dealing with disappointment and the importance of self can be taught through managed gift-giving. Involve children in family financial matters to the extent that they can understand that economy and giving are related. Teach children to care about and assisting in relieving poverty.

About the author:
Harvey Craft
 is a retired educator and former principal, with extensive experience in teaching grades six through to twelve. He is NBPTS certified in Adolescent Science and now spends his time in educational research, consulting, and freelance writing.
Click here to contact or read more articles by Harvey Craft.

Tags : Parenting, advice, children, child, kids, gifts, gift, present, love, affection, approval

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