My children have always liked Veggie Tales. We began watching them in 1999, when my daughter was just one year old, and they have been a staple in our family ever since. Around Christmas time, my kids start begging to watch The Toy That Saved Christmas*. It was Veggie Tales’ first Christmas video. My kids have it memorized. Come to think of it, so do I.

The show starts out with the Veggie Kids running around Dinkletown, excited about Christmas and singing songs. The mood is frenzied. And the latest must-have toy is Buzz Saw Louie. The kids see a TV commercial about Buzz Saw Louie, and watch with wide eyes. They’re amazed as the announcer tells them Buzz Saw Louie knows the true meaning of Christmas. And then he pushes the button. Buzz Saw Louie opens his mouth and says,

Christmas is when you get stuff! You need more Toys!

The commercial ends. For a moment, the kids stand there. Then chaos breaks loose! The kids run home to their parents crying,

I need more toys!

Billy has more toys than me!

I need a Buzz Saw Louie!

I need TEN Buzz Saw Louies, ‘cuz that’s the true meaning of Christmas! Waaaaaaaah!

Of course that’s a little far-fetched, but in today’s society, it’s easy for kids to get the gimmes at Christmas time. And my kids aren’t immune. My 5 year old son seems especially vulnerable when he sees TV commercials for toys. He begs and begs for the toy, which is the best toy ever, of course. The latest object of his desire is the Shake ‘n Go Crash-Ups Speedway*. Never mind that he already has a matchbox track that does the same thing.

So how does one prevent kids from getting the Christmas gimmes? I don’t think there’s one fool-proof method, but there are several small things you can do to keep the “I wants” to a minimum.

1. Limit TV Commercials. My husband has had a long career in advertising sales. I know for sure that the people who put together television commercials for kids’ toys have a strategy. They know that if they can get little Suzy to beg mom for Baby Alive* or little Johnny to cry about wanting a Nintendo DS*, mom or dad will be more likely to buy the toy than if the commercial were aimed at adults.

The best way to cut out commercials is to cut way back on the television viewing. But if you can’t, or don’t want to do that, I think the DVR or TIVO is the best invention ever. You can start the kids’ show 15 minutes late, and then just skip through the commercials. The kids won’t beg for what they don’t see.

2. Toss the catalogs. I remember when I was a kid, my family always got the Sears Wish Book at Christmas. Oh, my brothers and I loved it! We would spend hours pouring over the catalog, refining our Christmas lists, and circling the things we wanted. I remember staring at the Barbie Dream House, imagining how much better my life would be if I owned it.

At Thanksgiving my mom told me she always felt bad, because that Dream House was so expensive, and they couldn’t afford it. One Christmas I got the Barbie Townhouse, which was a less expensive version of the Dream House, and you know what? I enjoyed it just as much.

The point is, get rid of the catalogs. Why put images of more things in your child’s head? Why even set your child up to be disappointed on Christmas morning, when he doesn’t get all the stuff he dreamed about?

Unfortunately we’re learning this lesson the hard way. My son got a hold of the Toys R Us catalog before we had a chance to toss it, and it’s been his best friend ever since. He will not let that thing out of his site. Yes, I could get rid of it now, but the damage has already been done. I just keep telling him that he is not getting everything in the catalog for Christmas. So please, learn from our mistakes. Put the toy catalogs in the recycle bin before they even make it into the house!

3. Stress activities, not presents. We stress a lot of activities at Christmas time. Nothing too harried or hectic, but lots of fun family activities. We read a lot. We watch movies together. We make cookies and candy together.

I’m a firm believer that kids would rather have meaningful interaction with their parents than toys any day. So that’s what we try to provide them. My kids probably won’t remember every toy they received every Christmas. I know I sure don’t. But what I do remember is how I felt at Christmas. Times spent with family that made me feel happy and secure. Those are the gifts I want to give my children.

4. Explain why you won’t overindulge them. As a Christian, I want the focus of the Christmas season to be on Christ. I don’t want my children so wrapped up in receiving gifts that they forget why we’re celebrating Christmas.

For that reason, we buy our children three gifts each Christmas: a toy, a book, and a game. We also buy pajamas to be opened on Christmas Eve, but they usually need new pajamas around that time anyway. We try to get them a toy that they will enjoy for a long time, not one that will be tossed to the side by Christmas afternoon. We buy a book to encourage reading. And we buy a game to encourage family togetherness.

The reason we only buy three gifts (and then pajamas, which I consider a need wrapped up like a gift) is that baby Jesus only got three gifts. And if three gifts was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for my children. I’ve explained this to my children, and my daughter has a pretty good grasp of the concept, and a pretty mature attitude about it too. My son is a little young, but he’ll come around.

Whatever your reason for not wanting to overindulge your children, explain it to them. You’d be surprised at how much they understand and accept and even embrace.

5. Start young. The best time to start reigning in the gimme monster is when your children are young. If you’ve never given them $1000 worth of presents on Christmas morning, they will never expect it. But if they’ve had 10 years of receiving the latest and greatest and most expensive toys, it’s much harder to tone the spending down without protest from you child.

For those of you who don’t have children yet, make a plan as to how you want to handle Christmas presents before you have children. When your first baby has her first Christmas, you will be tempted to spend a lot. Trust me. But if you have your goals in mind and a plan in place, you can avoid overindulging your children.

If you have older children, you can still cut back on the spending. You might encounter a big protest from the kids, but that can be toned down by explaining why you’re spending less and doing some fun things with your children.

The bottom line is if you limit the advertising that comes into your home and don’t stress gifts yourself, your children are far less likely to get a bad case of the gimmes at Christmas time. Do you have any ideas for taming the greed monster at Christmas? Please share in the comments!

Photo by dawnhops.

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