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.
This may sound horrible, but I do not plan on getting my 1 year old anything for Christmas, for the 2nd time (he was 2 months old last Christmas). He’s too young to realize I didn’t get him anything and I know the rest of the family will spoil him with more than enough anyway.
That little kid in the picture looks so pitiful lol, he looks like someone just stole his cake lol
thanks so much. my cousins are coming for christmas, and my mom wants me to show them the real meaning of christmas. your post really helped me with it. thanks a lot
@kathlynn – I can totally relate. We overbought for our daughter the first few years. It’s definitely an easy thing to do!
I agree with everything you write here but I am so bad about buying lots of gifts for my kids. I have so much fun buying that I just keep going. I like them to have lots of gifts on Christmas morning. The problem is that now that my kids are older the gifts are way more expensive. This year I have had to explain this to them. We will see how it goes.
@Ryan – Believe me, I’ve thought about it. My mom got fed up with the amount of TV we watched as kids, and one day she just got rid of it. That’s when I learned to love reading.
On the other hand, my husband might protest. He does love his sports.
We limit the TV quite a bit, so we do OK. I can definitely tell by my kids’ behavior, though, whether they’ve been watching too much.
@Kyle – I totally agree about kids and limits!
How about just get rid of the TV entirely? It’s one of the best lifestyle decisions we’ve ever made. I cannot begin to tell you the positive impact it has had on our kids’ behavior.
Good advive! I can vouch for #5, my kids know what to expect from Santa because my wife and I have not changed the amount we give over the years. I think that kids actually do better when limits and parameters are made clear and not given into by the parents.
Thanks, Paula. I caught it at the last minute and recorded it! :)
Lynnae, Ruldoph played last night on CBS. It’ll probably play again.
Loved the picture with this post almost as much as the post itself! I really liked your thinking behind the 3 gifts in particular.
We always got new PJ’s & a new toothbrush at Christmas as kids, to this day my sister & I will get ourselves those things around this time too. It’s a great tradition.
Its difficult to not spoil your children when you get so much enjoyment out of their smiling faces. I agree though, sharing the holiday spirit and being engaged as a family with activities is a better way to connect during christmas. I enjoy watching “Frosty the Snowman”, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” with my little ones. I just got a copy of the Limited Edition Christmas Classics DVD set which has 7 holidays films, plus a bonus holiday music cd that the kids love. Its a great gift for families and children. You can find it at any place they sell DVDs or you can get it at http://www.christmasclassics.tv . Its a great way to keep familiy christmas traditions alive!
@Heidi – Thanks!
@Jenna – We love the old holiday classics, too. Does anyone know when Rudolph comes on TV this year?
@debtdieter – I love traditions that keep on going even after you grow up. That’s awesome!
@Jennifer – I absolutely love that response to your children telling you what they want! I’m going to use that!
@Mrs. Micah – You know I’m all about frugal. :)
@Astriel – It seems like this is a lean year for a lot of people. I know it is for us. I’m so glad I haven’t set the kids up for disappointment on years like these. If I had given my daughter an iPod last year, can you imagine what she’d think this year?
@Heather – My son hasn’t called grandma (he doesn’t know the number), but he followed her around with that Toys R Us catalog all day on Thanksgiving. Ugh.
@Elizabeth – I can see how that would have been hard. Kids don’t like change much.
Great list, Lynnae. I love the three gifts idea. I agree with your point about starting young — changing directions mid-stream can lead to a lot of resistance. This happened to my family when I was a kid. Even though we understood the reasons, it was difficult to have our traditions changed.
Those are good tips.
We have (so far) been lucky in this area. We do the 3 presents thing too. By the time they get their stuff from grandma’s, aunts & uncles & everyone else, they still get too much stuff, so I do not feel bad, and my kids haven’t even noticed since we started this new plan.
I also never ask my kids what they want for Christmas. If they tell me something they want, I say “Christmas is coming, you may be surprised” and consequently the anxiety of Christmas coming seems to be less centered on gifts. My daughter is telling everyone about our tree and the cookies we make, my neice her same age talks non stop about how Santa is going to bring her a baby doll, and a crib, and…
Agreed. We made the mistake of letting the Target catalog past the door and ended up with a phone call to grandma with a specific present in mind which she ended up searching several counties and online in order to actually buy–and it wasn’t that big of a deal to the kids. They just really liked it. (They do however know to only ask for ONE gift from each grandparent and they know roughly how much they are willing to spend per child.) They only get a few gifts from us and know it.
Great post. It’s so hard to be non-materialistic around the holidays AND teach that to ones children. Only last night, my husband and I had the yearly christmas talk (what to give and how much to spend). It’s a very lean year for us. The christmas tree already broke in half. Don’t ask. We, too decided that we would give each child only 3 gifts.
We had the wishbook too. And in retrospect I never needed any of that stuff.
I like your “three gifts” idea. It ties in nicely and it’s frugal. :)