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Do too many gifts create spoiled children? The question that has 'Real Housewives' talking
“Teach kids to ... respect and value their things instead of taking them for granted,” said Dr. Jennifer Politis, a Ramsey-based family psychologist.
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It’s hard to stop your kid from having a tantrum in public. But here are some top tips for preventing them altogether. Buzz60
I recently took my kids to a family get-together at my new friend’s home, and when we pulled up to her enormous estate, her adorable children ran to greet us at the door. As they led us through one tremendous room after another, past the gym and spa, we arrived at the double-level play wing, equipped with an indoor basketball court, movie theater and a bouncy castle bigger than my home.
“When kids come here they never want to leave,” my friend proudly announced, which made me wonder: Can kids grow up having everything they want and still turn into humble, appreciative adults? Do too many gifts create spoiled children?
“The issue isn’t the amount that kids are given, but whether they expect things all the time,” said Dr. Jennifer Politis, a Ramsey-based family psychologist. “Children shouldn’t expect a gift for everything they do, and if a child can’t take no for an answer, that creates a spoiled child.” Politis acknowledges that parents enjoy buying gifts for their children, and are entitled to do so. However, she believes there are ways to give gifts, even big ones, without spoiling your kids.
“Teach kids to be responsible for the gifts that they’re given, so they respect and value their things instead of taking them for granted,” she said, noting there should be rules associated with what they receive. “If you give your kid a moped, that’s fine, but they need to clean it, put it away and make it a priority.” Politis suggests putting the rules in writing or clearly verbalizing them so children know what’s expected of them.
Further, Politis recommends that parents talk to their kids about the effort that went into getting the gift. “Tell them how many hours and days Mom and Dad had to work to pay for the gift, so they have a frame of reference,” she said, adding that parents should teach kids about money and what things cost.
Teaching your kids to be grateful for what they have is also critical, Politis said. “As a family, it’s important to openly discuss how blessed and thankful you are,” she said, noting that for some families that means praying while for others it means a dinner-table discussion. “Instead of your kids saying ‘thank you’ and that’s it, make a habit of them writing thank-you notes to you, to their grandparents or even to the universe.”
Also, she suggests that parents give their children a wider world view so they know how fortunate they are. “Kids can’t know how blessed they are without a comparison,” Politis said, adding that children can live in luxury and remain conscientious and appreciative if they understand how others live and are involved in giving back. “Be a Secret Santa for a family in need, or volunteer at a soup kitchen,” she said.
Before making large purchases, she suggests involving your kids by encouraging them to donate toys or clothes. “Allow them to pick what’s being donated and help you do it,” she said. “Involving your kids teaches them the importance of helping others and the cycle of giving, and shows them how fun it feels to give as well as receive.”
While she recognizes the joy parents get from giving gifts, she discourages offering gifts as a way to comfort a sad child. “Then the child isn’t learning to cope with the sadness, they’re learning to fill the void with something else,” she said. “Then you’ll have a child who can’t regulate their emotions, which means they can skyrocket from sad to happy to mad.” Instead, she advises letting your child sit with their feelings so they learn to handle them. “You want them to realize that just because I miss mommy doesn’t mean I have to get something.”
For Politis, an important part of raising humble kids is instilling a strong work ethic. “Kids should know that school is their top priority, and there are consequences of failing to work hard,” she said. “Don’t cave in on penalties. No homework means no friends over.” She also suggests creating opportunities, in addition to chores, for your kids to work around the house. “Don’t hire away all the hard jobs,” she said. “Instead of a landscaper raking the leaves, do it together as a family. Sweep the garage or do spring cleaning together, so kids understand what goes into managing a house and realize what hard work it is.”
Additionally, she reminds us that people are more grateful for experiences than material possessions. “Parents have all seen where we give our kid a gift and two hours later it’s thrown to the side,” she said, “but if your gift was a family activity or outing, kids appreciate that more. They enjoy the experience of family bonding.” Politis suggests creating a family activity around material gifts so kids appreciate your involvement along with the gift. “I like to say give presence over presents,” she said.
Finally, when it comes to raising good children, no matter how much you indulge them, always remember that you’re their role model. “Kids watch everything you do, so be cognizant of your language, your manners, your attitude and your forgiveness and love,” she said. "Parents who continuously boast about their possessions might be teaching their children that material possessions are more important than they truly are."
I’m also guilty of buying my kids lots of gifts, so I’m not faulting my friend for her generosity. I just hope she heeds Politis’ advice so her children remain the sweet kids I met at the door. And though I’m not sure my children’s playroom will ever measure up to the one they played in that night, there is one thing of which I’m absolutely sure: I never aspire to have the home that other people’s children never want to leave.
Contact Jackie Goldschneider at firstname.lastname@example.org
This column was featured on Wednesday night's episode of The Real Housewives of New Jersey. We want to know what you think.