Steer kids away from idea of ‘What am I getting?’

  • By Heidi Stevens Chicago Tribune
  • Sunday, December 23, 2012 5:41pm
  • Life

Problem: Your kids become demanding, greedy monsters every December. Is this inevitable?

Solution: Inevitable? Not really.

Understandable? Absolutely, said child development and behavior specialist Betsy Brown Braun, author of “You’re Not the Boss of Me: Brat-Proofing Your 4- to 12-Year-Old Child.”

“Kids want stuff,” she said. “Everybody wants stuff. I look through the (Neiman Marcus) catalog and think, ‘Oh! Another pair of red flats!’ But parents get angry at their kids and turn wanting into a bad thing instead of turning it into a learning opportunity.”

From the moment they’re born, children are hard-wired to receive. We don’t do much to dissuade that reflex with our yearlong buildup to holidays. (“You can ask Santa to bring you that!” “Let’s save that for your Hanukkah list!” “Tell Grandma what you want for Christmas!”)

“We have to be wary of getting angry at kids for doing just exactly what kids do,” Brown Braun said.

As parents, our job (one of them, anyway) is to teach kids the beauty of giving as well.

“It’s up to us, (when they’re) at an early age, to redefine the holidays so they’re not all about ‘What am I going to get?’” Brown Braun said. “We have to work overtime to put the emphasis on interactive family experiences and rituals — creating memories and cultivating the pleasure that you get out of giving to somebody else.”

Think of the joy on your child’s face when he presents you with glitter and dried pasta glued to construction paper for Mother’s Day. The desire to give and please is there. You may just have to put a little extra emphasis on it.

“One night in December get everyone in the kitchen to make cranberry bread,” Brown Braun said. “Make the wrapping paper together. Have the kids make their own lists of whom to give it to. Maybe it’s the firemen, maybe it’s a parking lot attendant.

“Put on your jammies and run around the city looking at Christmas decorations. Do things that are not only defined by presents.

“I’m not saying it will take the place of getting,” she said. “But it teaches them that fun and joy come out of more than just receiving.”

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