What were you saying about scaling back on the “materialism quotient” in homes brimming with toys, gizmos — and overindulged kids?
My last column on this subject (“Stopping Spoilage,” Feb. 8) stated the core laws of child-rearing economics. Law No. 1: Don’t give materially all you are able to. Law No. 2: Don’t give materially all a child wants you to. There is a corollary to these laws: Where your child is concerned, others need to follow your laws.
Children live the good life when given love, attention, security and discipline. Material goodies may be a child’s idea of the good life, but kids are naturally shortsighted. Grown-ups often have to look down the road for them.
So how do you cap a bottomless well of material stuff flowing into your home from within and without? Here are a few suggestions.
Gently seek your relatives’ cooperation with your revamped mindset: “We’re going to cut way down on the things we buy the kids. We want to teach them more about appreciation. Can you help us? We know how much you enjoy getting them things, but we want them to love you for you and not what you can buy.” Stress how much more their presence means than their presents.
If goodies continue to flow into the house at an unacceptable rate, consider an all-out campaign to reduce inventory. You and the kids can decide together what to share with other children who have much less. Arrange for the gifts’ personal delivery to a hospital, shelter, group home, school or church.
To avoid future accumulation: For every goodie that comes in, one goes out. The kids can choose. If they’re reluctant to part with anything, you choose. Also, you might quietly tell Hughes that he can’t keep everything he gets from everybody. In your judgment, it’s too much. This means some things may be given away almost as quickly as they arrive. Is this being ungrateful or insulting to the givers? If they know what you’re doing — of course, the kids will tell them — initially they might take offense. With time, they should come to accept, if not understand, your “eccentric” ways. Your children’s character is far too important for compromise on contributions you don’t agree with, no matter how well-intentioned the contributor.
Regain control of the Christmas spigot. Prior to the holidays, you and the kids should sift through existing toys, deciding which will be given to needy children. Make sure a few good items are shared, and not just the 5-year-old, outgrown, untouched clutter. Space out Christmas gift opening, so Noel can savor the gift and appreciate the giver. If too much flows in, hold over some for opening after Christmas.
You can make an even stronger statement about sharing by having the kids choose one or two unopened gifts to be given to a less fortunate child.
Because the package contents are unknown, a child will truly be sharing and not just discarding his least favorite.
Will relatives and friends understand? Again, maybe not. But they probably will be amazed by your resolve to actively teach what you preach.
Do you have the right to give away gifts? Of course. Once given, a gift is the receiver’s to do with what he/she wishes, even to regive to another. But aren’t you “taking” your children’s gifts? Yes and no.
Yes, in that you may initially be doing these things against their will. No, in that you are acting in their long-term interests. As a parent, you have that responsibility. Indeed, you use your influence and authority to direct your children’s actions all the time. You take the fourth cookie Chip tries to eat. You take Nielsen’s remote control after an hour of TV viewing. You take Lock’s freedom by sending him to his room. Not allowing access to bad things, or to good things in bad quantity, is loving parenting.
Isn’t all this just “forcing” kids to share or to be less materialistic? Sure it is. Much of character is instilled initially by making kids do or not do things against their wishes. At first, most kids will resist giving up what is “theirs” or get upset about not getting more. As they mature, they begin to grasp the deeper reason behind the action. They feel better about giving than getting, and learn to be content and grateful for what they have rather than upset over what they don’t have.
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