“I didn’t want a blue car! I wanted a red one!”

I’ve seen an increase of news on the parenting radar about a drop in children’s gratitude and an increase in their sense of entitlement.

A recent article entitled “Selfishness is Rampant” indicates that a child’s lack of gratitude is a “symptom of a greater phenomenon that psychologists, family experts, sociologists and scholars say is gripping the world. Now, more than ever, entitlement — the idea that ‘I should get everything I want when I want it, even if I haven’t worked for it’ — is rearing its ugly head.”1

With the hustle and bustle of the holiday season comes an opportunity to shape your child’s sense of identity and giving. Although children associate this time of year with being gift receivers, studies show that gift giving reaps the biggest psychological rewards. As parents, we can support our children by thinking about the lessons we want our children to learn this holiday season.

Here are some quick tips to consider:

  • Communicate with your spouse: Finances rank high on the marriage stressors. Have a healthy conversation with your spouse about the amount of money to spend on each child.
  • Messages and Lessons: Growing up, what messages did you receive about holiday gift giving? What message are you currently teaching your children? Your messages can reinforce entitlement such as “I will get everything I put on my Christmas list,” “Money is no object,” and “If I put up a fuss, I’ll get what I want.” Or, they can emphasize gratitude, such as “The holidays are more about spending time with family than receiving gifts” and “Give from the heart, not the pocket book.”
  • High-End Gift Items: If you decide to purchase a high-end gift like a smart phone, iPod, computer, or car, consider including a signed agreement on responsible use of the item. This could include when and how the item is to be used, who will be paying for additional expenses (for example: data plan, minutes, internet usage, special applications, iTunes account, insurance, gas, maintenance fees, etc.), as well as consequences (for example: lose for 6 weeks if grades are low, give back if used at inappropriate times, etc.).
  • Changing Traditions: If you are making some changes to your traditional holiday gift spending plans, let the children know and do it gradually so they are not disappointed. If you have a tradition of spending $500 per child on holiday gifts (not recommended), but can only spend $100 this year due to changing financial situations, let them know gift giving will be different this year. Encourage them to be part of the change by reducing their own spending or coming up with non-financial gift ideas.

Here are some gift giving ideas that emphasize gratitude:

  • Donations: Donate money to a charity on your child’s behalf helping them to “sharing with those less fortunate.” Allow older children the option of picking their charity.
  • Coupons: Create a coupon book of special things that can be used throughout the year, such as staying up an extra hour, a chore-free day, family movie night, bike ride day, etc.
  • Pictures: Whether photos, color copies, or hand-drawn pictures, provide memories of special moments throughout the year in a picture frame, scrapbook, photo book or poster. Decorate a picture frame with a favorite photo for a special touch.
  • Memory Book: Create a memory book story (fiction or non-fiction) of your child using real photos of them from the year. Add to the book each year with a new “story.”
    Baked Items: Bake your child’s favorite holiday cookies, cakes or meal. Or let them help you bake all of your favorite holiday treats, package them up and deliver them to family and friends.
  • Special Letters: Create a special letter to your child. Include your views on what is going on in their life, a special moment in the year, how proud they were of him/her, or your thoughts and hopes for their future. I’ve passed this tradition onto my children who in turn write special holiday letters of their own to me.
  • Contributions: Encourage your child to purchase small gifts for their siblings or grandparents using their own money (from chores, allowance, etc). Taking them to the 99 Cent Store for a small item will mean more to the giver and the receiver if it is purchased with your child’s own money and thoughtfulness.

What special messages or learnings do you want your children to take away from their holiday experience – a sense of entitlement or gratitude? You have an opportunity to make a difference in their life now and in the future … one present at a time.

1 [Desert News, “The age of entitlement: Selfishness is rampant, but can be corrected, experts say” August 28, 2011]