It started with the monster trucks when he was just three years old. Once a month, Stacey Scolli would treat her son, Aiden, to a truck of his choice. Now five, Aiden has developed a monster case of the gimmes. “Every time we go out, it’s about, ‘Can I get a toy? Can I get something?’ It doesn’t matter if it’s a $2 sprinkler or a $50 toy racetrack, there’s a constant expectation,” says the Ottawa-based mom. “We don’t give in anymore. But it’s frustrating to have to deal with it.”
Kay Wetherill of St. François Xavier, Man., can relate. The mother of two often faces similar expectations from her three-and-a-half year old son, Kalle. However, she has come up with a strategy to keep her preschooler’s demands in check: “We’ll be in a store and Kalle will grab a toy,” says Wetherill. “I will say to him: ‘Would you like that toy for Christmas—because Santa is watching…’ It gives him hope that he’s going to get the toy in the future and avoids tantrums.”
With the holidays just around the corner, plenty of parents across the country are sure to experience a child with a whopping case of the gimmes—at least once—before the end of 2015. That’s no surprise when you consider that children and parents alike are bombarded daily with marketing advertisements on everything from cereal boxes and lunch bags to TV and even educational games. “We live in a consumer nation,” says Alyson Schafer, a Toronto-based parenting expert and bestselling author of Ain’t Misbehavin’. As a result, some parents mistakenly blur the lines between happiness and spending.
It’s a natural desire to want to make those we love happy. But constantly giving in to your child’s demands for things can not only be draining—both financially and psychologically—it also really doesn’t make for good parenting, says Sheri Noga, a Detroit-based psychotherapist and author of Have the Guts to Do it Right: Raising Grateful and Responsible Children in an Era of Indulgence. “Parents have bought into the idea that material goods make children happy, but research says that’s not true. As a result, kids end up not valuing much,” says Noga. “Children model a lot of basic attitudes on how their parents behave. As a parent, if you show appreciation for things, your children will learn from that,” she says.
The good news? There are several strategies to cure a raging case of the gimmes. “Adopt some hard and fast rules,” advises Schafer. “In your family, you get to decide what your consumer habits are. Make them clear to your kids and live by them. Kids do very well living by enforced rules. They don’t do well when things are arbitrary.”
For example, Schafer recommends leaving gift giving to major holidays and birthdays, and creating a game plan when it comes to shopping excursions. So, if you’re going on a shoe-shopping trip, warn your child beforehand that you are going to buy shoes and nothing else. That way later on, when he sees bubbles for $1, he won’t try to wear you down. And by not caving to every purchase whim, the gifts your child does receive become that much more special. “If you have lots of something, how much do you appreciate it? It’s just human nature,” adds Noga.
If you do face a frantic “Please Mommy, I must have this toy!” outburst, Schafer says the best way to deal with it is to write it down. “If you say, ‘It sounds like you really want that new toy and are looking forward to having it, so let’s write it down and put it on your wish list,’ it’ll show your child that you are paying attention.”
Lastly, if your children want extra goodies outside of gift-giving occasions, tell them they’ll have to spend their own money. “Come up with an allowance amount that’s appropriate for their development stage and family budget, and shift the purchasing responsibility to the child in an age-appropriate way,” says Schafer.
Not only will a regular allowance teach kids about fiscal responsibility and allow them to purchase small items they’re always pestering you for, it’ll give them a chance to give back. “Once my kids saved up and bought me a tea set from the dollar store,” says Schafer. “They got to experience that it feels better to give than get. Children can’t have that experience unless parents set it up.”