5 ways to make your child less selfish and more thankful this holiday season


In a society driven by rampant consumerism, it can be a challenge to raise children who are appreciative of what they have – especially during the holidays. While we naturally want to make our children happy, satisfying their every whim is counterintuitive and often harmful.

Here are five suggestions for scaling back your holiday spending while fostering an attitude of thankfulness and generosity in your children:

  1. Stop feeding the beast. Without knowing it, many parents unintentionally teach their children to want more, more, more – a pack of gum every time you check out at the grocery store, a trinket to keep them quiet at the mall, an ice cream cone at McDonald’s just because you were driving by. Whether motivated by love, guilt or simply the desire to avoid a meltdown, it’s never a good idea to say yes all the time. Your child will learn to appreciate special treats much more if they remain just that – special.
  1. Manage expectations. Kids like to know what to expect. Without going into too many details about your finances, talk about gifts and spending ahead of time. When you place a limit on requests, you teach children to prioritize desires and manage expectations. It’s okay for kids to be disappointed when they don’t always get what they want. Learning to handle disappointment is a natural part of life and a skill that will serve your child well.
  1. Curb the comparisons. School-age children are especially susceptible to making comparisons. Use the holidays as an opportunity to celebrate the ways your family does things. Explain that all families are different and that you are in charge of making choices for your family, and then leave it at that. If your child is jealous of something that so-and-so has – and it’s not in your budget – have a conversation about saving for that special item. Set up a system that encourages your child to learn the value of working hard and earning the things that he or she desires.
  1. Emphasize experiences rather than gifts. When they’re grown, your children will look back and remember the fun things you did as a family far more than the gifts they did or did not receive. This year, consider buying a few things on their list and then using the extra money to create lasting memories. Spend the night in a hotel and swim in the pool, take a day trip to a fun museum, or attend a concert together. You can’t put a price tag on quality time.
  1. Spend less, give more. If you’re trying to foster a generous heart in your child, provide plenty of opportunities to give. Make homemade gifts for the grandparents, bake cookies for your neighbors, or volunteer for an organization that you care about. Kids are naturally very egocentric. When they learn the value of spreading love and joy to those in need, they become less selfish and shift their focus to others.

The holidays don’t have to be all about gifts. Remember that you set the tone for your family, and you can create an environment centered on thankfulness and generosity.

David Lowenstein, Ph.D. is a psychologist and the clinical director of Lowenstein & Associates, Inc. in Columbus, Ohio. In addition to providing therapeutic services to individuals and families, he offers training and consultation to numerous associations, schools and agencies around the country. Additionally, he is a frequent radio and TV guest and a resource and contributing writer for numerous newspapers and magazines nationwide. Contact Dr. David Lowenstein at 691 South Fifth Street, Columbus, Ohio, 43206, or call 614.443.6155 or 614.444.0432.