Redirecting the Holiday Gimmes

by Betsy Brown Braun

Sugar Plum fairies and fa la la la la are not the only things that come with the winter holidays. So does a parent’s worst fear that she has raised the spoiled child she swore she would never have. At no other time of year do the cries of “Gimme Gimme!” echo so loudly across our land.

A case of the gimmes is not limited to the well-off. Parents across a wide range of incomes are plagued by concerns that they are raising a spoiled, ungrateful child. But here’s the truth of the matter: having spoiled, unappreciative children has more to do with parents than with children. That’s right, this one is on you!

Spoiled children are not born; they are made. Of course, infants and toddlers have every reason to believe that the sun and moon rise and set around them, with most of their desires getting met. But right around age two is when life lessons should hit home: you don’t always get what you want. Children who are not given the experience of not-getting, of having less, of longing, and of giving to others are on the road to becoming spoiled children.

The good news is that not only are you the cause of the gimmes, but you are also the cure. The holidays offer a great opportunity for a paradigm shift. It is a time for a rebrand from gimME to give YOU.

Here are some tips and scripts for rebranding your holidays this year.

  • Help your child to know that Santa (or you!) doesn’t bring everything he wants, that children usually get one or two things. Revisit his want listand help him to prioritize, explaining that he may get some of his desires met, but not all. You are shaping your child’s expectations for years to come.
  • Ask your relatives to cut back, explaining your goal of reining in your child’s greed. And if they insist on more, remind them that you are the gatekeeper.
  • Do not be put-off by your child’s longing. Know that the energy behind longing is powerful stuff. (Why do you think bribes work so well?) Rather, help him to find ways to reach his goal (by earning the money himself) or simply ignore his whining, thereby teaching him to tolerate his frustration or disappointment.
  • As the holidays get closer, help your child make a list of people to whom he wants to give something to for the holidays. Help him to think about those who are helpful or kind or meaningful to him throughout the year—his teacher, the janitor, the produce man, the local firefighters, etc…
  • In the build-up to the holidays or for one night of Hanukah, have a family gift making night. Everyone participates in making a family gift that each will give to the people on his list. Make cranberry bread or popcorn balls or decorated tongue depressor frames. Create the gifts on one night and wrap them the next—all of you! (Who cares if it isn’t perfect?)
  • Involve your children in your gift giving activities. Even a three year-old can affix a stamp to an envelope; a five year-old can put holiday cards in envelopes.
  • Invite your child to help you wrap your gifts. (Who cares if it isn’t perfect?) Aluminum foil makes great holiday wrap with a stick-on bow, and anyone can do it.
  • Share your excitement about how much you enjoy giving gifts, both as you prepare the gifts with your child and as you watch him open his gifts. This act calls attention to the job of giving and making someone else happy.
  • For older children who have money saved from their allowance, help them to spend their own money on gifts for others. This is where the 99 Cent Store and Big Lots come in handy. Money saved isn’t just for oneself.
  • Help your child to make coupon books for different people—certificates for various jobs, activities that are about helping or making someone else happy. (Dust Buster Daddy’s car; help with the baby; give mom a foot massage.)
  • Have “Secret Elves.” Unlike Secret Santa who focuses on giving gifts, Secret Elves DO things for others…in secret! The elf (who has chosen you) does something helpful for her secret recipient, and leaves a (premade) note that says “from your Secret Elf.” Bring the newspaper in for Daddy; set the table for sister (whose job it is). Get it?
  • As the holidays get closer, think about what you and your child may already have in your possession that you or he might give to someone else. (This should not be something that is old or not useful. It is about excess and sharing.) Nor should it be limited to clothing. Think about your kitchen, your linen closet, your own game shelf. Children need to see their parents sharing.
  • Help your child to raise money to donate to a cause or charity. A winter lemonade or hot cocoa or fresh cookie stand. Decide in advance to where he will donate the profit. Or take your child to a store and buy a brand new toy to donate to Toys for Tots.
  • Consider having less than 8 gift receiving nights of Hanukah or not creating an entire carpet of gifts under your Christmas tree. Instead, have one night of the holiday be a family game night or family project night, another was your gift making night.
  • Know that experiences are often the best gifts of all. They will certainly be remembered long after the holiday is over. Suggest that Grandma take your child to see the Lion King or Daddy might take a child fishing. A cozy night in your bed with you, watching a favorite movie or a camp-out in the yard. Experiences last in a child’s memory forever.
  • Create holiday traditions and rituals that are unique to your family. (Get in your pj’s. and drive around in the car looking for holiday lights on Christmas Eve.) Year after year, your child will look forward to the fun family times as much as to the gifts. And he’ll likely do them with his own children someday, too.


Betsy Brown Braun, best selling author of Just Tell Me What to Say: Sensible Tips and Scripts for Perplexed Parents (HarperCollins) and You’re Not The Boss Of Me: Brat proofing Your Four To Twelve Year Old (HarperCollins), is a child development and behavior specialist, parent educator, multiple birth parenting consultant, and founder of Parenting Pathways®, Inc. Her parenting expertise has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Real Simple, American Baby, Cookie, Family Circle, Good Housekeeping, In Style, Parenting, Parents, Pregnancy and Newborn, Twins, Woman’s Day, and, Working Mother, Colorado Parent Magazine, Ohio Valley Parent Magazine among other publications. She has shared her expertise on the Today Show multiple times. Other television appearances have included Dr. Phil, Rachael Ray, The Early Show, Good Morning America, Entertainment Tonight, Fox & Friends, Hallmark’s Home and Family, KCBS, KNBC, and Fox News LA. She contributes to KNX news radio on child development, and has been a guest on countless radio programs nationwide, including NPR.