4 Ways to Celebrate the Season Without Breeding Entitlement

young boy dreaming about christmas in a santa hat

You sit at the kitchen table with your 8-year-old son, watching as he joyously fills out his holiday wish list. You love seeing the gleam in his sweet eyes as he scribbles out his heart’s desires.

Of course, you aren’t new to this whole parenting thing. You’ve been here before–just last year, in fact–and you know with every passing minute, his list is getting longer and longer.

And more expensive.

Not to mention, he doesn’t need everything on it. He wants it. And there is a very big difference between giving him something he needs and something he wants. 

Of course, it is the season of giving, and you do want to make the holidays as memorable as possible. Plus, is there anything better than seeing his face light up as he opens his presents?

But you’re also concerned with giving him too much. After all, you know there’s a fine line between gifting and spoiling, and sometimes that line can seem razor thin. 

Whether it’s the toddler requesting a sucker for good grocery store etiquette or the teenager expecting cold hard cash for good grades, everywhere you look it seems entitlement is abounding. 

Trust me, this particular predicament is no walk in the park, but I can assure you that it’s absolutely common. So common, in fact, I’ve even written a book about it! And I’d be delighted to share some tips on how you can celebrate the holiday season without having to worry about breeding entitlement in your child.

It may sound tricky, but I promise you can do it. Using these 4 tips, you’ll be sure to have the holiday season you’ve been dreaming of–with a capable and grateful child enjoying it right along with you.

1. Give Back

So often, when it comes to the holidays, we tend to get caught up in the hustle and bustle that comes with the season. In non-pandemic years, we cart our children from pageants to parades. We drive around looking at Christmas lights and decorate beautiful trees in the middle of our living rooms. And let’s not forget the biggest expense of our time–gift giving!

‘Tis the season, after all.

However, amidst the chaos, it can be easy to forget that when we give, someone else receives. And when it comes to our children, it’s crucial that we make sure there’s a proper balance in place. Because if you’re only giving and they’re only receiving, you may be on the fast track to entitlement, dear friend.

So what can you do? Simple! Give them the opportunity to give back!

Charity

This time of year, you don’t have to look far to find a list of worthy and admirable charities to contribute to. These can be anything from local groups (like a soup kitchen or food pantry) to worldwide organizations.

To get your kids involved, there are a few routes you can go. 

If maintaining distance is your most important factor, have your kids set aside a portion of their allowance for charitable giving, and let them choose which organization they’d like to send it to. (Hint, hint–you can do this all year long!)

Otherwise, if your kids are super hands-on and love working with others, sign them up to serve food at the local shelter or become bell ringers for The Salvation Army.

And don’t forget, they can always give back by giving to other kids! The Angel Tree program is a wonderful way to do this and trees can be found in most cities in the US. All your kids need to do is find a tree, select an ornament, and head to the store, ready to buy the items listed for a child in need.

Involve Them in the Gift-Giving Process

Outside of charity, another amazing way you can instill the value of giving over receiving is to make sure your kids are actually involved in the gifting process.

That means, instead of adding their names to the gift tag on the box, take them shopping for the actual gift, whether in-person or online!

Ask questions like, What do you think Grandma would like this year? What do you think of when you think of your sister? What can we give your dad to bring him joy?

Not only are you going to get a great deal of help with the holiday shopping this year, but you’ll be giving your kids a huge dose of positive power by showing interest in their ideas and letting them make some decisions.

The bottom line? The holidays are a two-way street. We receive AND we give.

me me me epidemic

2. Make a Gratitude List

Let’s be honest. When it comes to the holiday season, most kids probably have only one list in mind. And while there’s nothing wrong with having them write down what gifts they’d like to receive this year, if you want to avoid entitlement, I have a better list for you to give them. 

A gratitude list.

Gratitude is an easy enough concept to grasp, yet so tricky to execute. Sure, making a list of all the things we have to be thankful for doesn’t seem like a daunting task, but actually taking the time to do so throws a wrench into more carefree holiday plans.

That’s where the list comes in. Because, when they write out a gratitude list, they naturally think about what they’re grateful for. They slow down and think about every item, committing it to memory. 

It’s a wonderful task for parents and an equally wonderful task for children. So why not do it together?

Look at your family’s schedule and carve out a time when you can sit down and make your lists. These can be private or shared; it’s up to each family member individually. 

Then, get writing. Really think it through and ask questions!

What positive things have happened to me recently? What do I appreciate the most at this time in my life? Who in my life makes me truly happy?

Practicing gratitude comes at no cost, yet yields enormous rewards. And when you take the time to do so with your kids by your side, you’ll start to see less entitlement and more appreciation.
practicing gratitude quote

3. Create Teachable Moments

Your daughter asked why the Fourth of July was a holiday and you found an excellent opportunity to teach her about freedom. Your son noticed a man on the side of the road holding a cardboard sign and it sparked an insightful conversation about charity and the importance of helping others.

There’s no denying that every single day with our children is filled with teachable moments. You know, those little opportunities that pop up out of nowhere, giving us the chance to make a valuable lesson known to our kids. We can’t plan for them, we just have to pay attention.

Teachable moments come in all forms and appear in every situation. And if you’re looking to open your child’s worldview and end any sense of entitlement she may have building up, this is the secret sauce that’s going to get you there.

Finding these moments is especially important during the holidays!

Imagine…

Your 10-year-old son wants nothing more for the holidays than a brand new Xbox. The graphics are second to none, the games are so fun, and not to mention, “all the other fifth graders are getting one from their parents.”

But at $500, the price is simply too steep.

Sure, you could cut back on some basic necessities or skip next month’s car payment. It would certainly make him happy! But would you be doing him any favors?

Absolutely not.

Instead, think of this as a teachable moment. 

Now is the time to have a very real, very important conversation…about finances.

Does he have an allowance? Let him know if he wants something that expensive, it’s up to him to pay for it. Help him understand how he can stretch his money and save it up, keeping in mind the end goal–the Xbox!

While I don’t advocate paying kids to do jobs that are expected of them around the house (after all, you don’t get paid to do the laundry, right?), they always have the opportunity to complete additional jobs outside their normal responsibilities to earn extra cash.

For older kids, this could be mowing the neighbors’ lawns or shoveling their sidewalks. Younger kids may want to host a lemonade stand (with your help, of course).

You can always take this teachable moment above and beyond by stepping outside the confines of your own four walls. Take your son to the local shelter, VA, or soup kitchen if they have any volunteer opportunities available during the holidays. 

Not all families have the means or ability to celebrate with expensive presents, yet they still manage to find the joy of the season. Seeing this with his own two eyes would work wonders on any entitlement he may have felt.

4. More Presence. Less Presents.

Let’s face it. Holiday consumerism is a tough beast to avoid. It seems everywhere you (or your children) look, another advertisement is hidden in plain sight, tempting you with the latest and greatest gadget, device, toy–whatever!

So why wouldn’t your daughter feel entitled to receive a brand new American Girl doll this year? The commercial told her she deserved one!

If this is something you and your children are wrestling with this year, I’d like to suggest a more simplified approach to help reduce the allure of buying endless gifts.

More presence. Less presents.

First of all, turn off the television, radio, and social media and step away for a little while. They have temptation written all over them.

Then, actively choose to buy fewer presents this year. Now, I’m not suggesting you don’t buy any presents–it is the season of giving, after all–just not as many as you may have in the past. 

One great option is to abide by the Four Gift Rule.

Instead of buying every item on your child’s wish list, stick to these four: something they want, something they need, something they wear, and something they read. Simple! 

Also, don’t forget to be mindful in your giving. As any parent knows, one super meaningful gift from the heart will outlast ten meaningless ones.

And, as always, you can never, ever go wrong with the greatest gift of all–your time! 

Now, you may be thinking, Ha! Amy, why don’t you try telling that to my 16-year-old? 

But I promise you, this truly is a gift worth giving. Even if you have to give it in a more roundabout way.

Because even teenagers benefit from a little one-on-one time–or as my fellow Positive Parenting Solutions members call it: Mind, Body, and Soul Time.

Would your 16-year-old enjoy a day at the spa with Mom? Would your 5-year-old be delighted with a day at the zoo? Pick something fun to do (together!) and turn it into a gift!

Not only will you be giving away the gift of your time and attention, but you’ll also be adding in a wonderful experience. It’s a two-for-one kind of deal! 

Final Thoughts

When all you hear from your kids is “Me, me, me,” or “gimme, gimme, gimme,” it can take a huge chunk of joy out of the holiday season. No parent wants to raise an entitled child, and I truly believe no parent intends to, either.

Fortunately, help is always a mouse click away. If you’re currently deep in the trenches of parenting entitled children, terrified of what the holidays will bring about, then you’ve come to the right place.

These four tips are simple, but so, so effective! Read them carefully, implement them into your holiday season, and stymie any sense of holiday entitlement present in your household–for good!

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About the Author

Amy McCready
Nationally recognized parenting expert Amy McCready is the Founder of Positive Parenting Solutions and the best selling author of The “Me, Me, Me” Epidemic - A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Kids in an Over-Entitled World and If I Have to Tell You One More Time…The Revolutionary Program That Gets Your Kids to Listen Without Nagging, Reminding or Yelling. As a “recovering yeller” and a Certified Positive Discipline Instructor, Amy is a champion of positive parenting techniques for happier families and well-behaved kids. Amy is a TODAY Show contributor and has been featured on CBS This Morning, CNN, Fox & Friends, MSNBC, Rachael Ray, Steve Harvey & others. In her most important role, she is the proud mom of two amazing young men.