Every parent loves seeing the joy in their child’s eyes when they tear open a gift they’ve had their heart set on. Kids deserve to feel special on their birthday and ‘feeling special’ is often reflected in the knowledge that mom and dad remembered and they’re getting the big present on the wish list! However, the reality of always giving in to their birthday wish list means a strain on mom and dad’s finances, not to mention the negative effect that expected gift giving might communicate to a child.
So would it be wrong to stand firm and NOT give your child an expected birthday present this year? No, but this decision should be explained to your child and alternative approaches to gift buying should be suggested to prevent your child from feeling punished or that their birthday holds no importance for you. It is not a child’s fault, after all, that the gifts they desire and have so much curiosity about cost money.
No parent wants their child to grow up materialistic, but denying them their ideal birthday present won’t necessarily teach them to not be materialistic. In fact, it can sometimes have the opposite effect. So what’s the solution? It’s all about learning to prioritize the presents that truly matter from the unnecessary ones (and teaching kids how to earn money themselves to afford any extra ‘expected’ gifts). In answering this question, let’s take a look at expert opinions on gift buying and how you can encourage your kid to think differently about presents.
The Long-term Effects of Buying Expected ‘wish list’ Presents
Indulging in your kids doesn’t have to mean buying every present they asked for or hinted at. Their birthday can still be made special by trimming down the present list to two or three sought-after gifts. Checking off every gift on their wish list doesn’t bring them the long term joy and satisfaction you think it will – it will instead have far reaching consequences that include:
Encourages poor money habits – not only does buying every expected ‘wish list’ present hurt your bank balance as parents, but buying every gift they desire goes on to instill terrible financial habits in your child. When the asset management firm T. Rowe Price conducted a survey of over indulgent parents in 2018, 69 percent reported that they had been unsuccessful in getting their kids to save money instead of spending right away.
Setting unrealistic expectations – getting every gift you asked for (and knowing you always will) won’t set your child up well for reality. As Kit Yarrow, professor of psychology at Golden Gate University in San Francisco puts it: “It’s beneficial for kids to learn disappointment at a young age. Kids who get everything they want can quickly adjust to that reality and come to believe they are entitled to everything.”
Destroys their sense of lasting happiness – research published in Harvard’s ‘Journal of Happiness’ revealed that people scored higher on a personal satisfaction scale when they were ‘giving’ gifts as opposed to receiving them or purchasing gifts themselves. Likewise, kids who receive too many gifts will only come to value receiving them without experiencing the joy of sharing and giving to others – creating egocentrics who lack empathy in adulthood.
What Experts Say about Indulgent Gift Giving
When some surveys are revealing that many parents dip into their emergency savings to cover the cost of kid’s birthday and Christmas presents, it’s obvious that attitudes need to change when it comes to gift buying and this begins with re-assessing priorities.
Senior financial planner at T. Rowe Price, Stuart Ritter, explains that when kids get every present they were expecting on their birthday or Christmas wish list, they miss out on a valuable life lesson – to prioritize: “One of the key skills that people need to develop as part of their financial lives is prioritization and making trade-offs: differentiating what kinds of things are important, what kind of things are less important, and how to manage money in a way that reflects those values.” Ritter continues: “If the kid is getting everything on their list, they don’t have the opportunity to go through that prioritization process. They don’t have to decide which things are more important and which are less important, and communicate that to their parents.”
To introduce them to this process, spokesman for the National Endowment for Financial Education, Paul Golden, recommends involving your 10 year old in family budget discussions – starting with their birthday (or Christmas): “Have your child make a list and then discuss which items on the list they consider a ‘need’ and which ones they consider a ‘want’.” Golden suggests doing this helps them “learn to prioritize what is going to be purchased or what they’re likely to receive on that list. It also makes them think about how they can’t have everything they want.”
Research into child behavior has also pointed to the sense of overwhelm kids feel around receiving too many presents, and the result of this overwhelm can be startling, to say the least. Some research found that children who are given a huge number of toys and gifts are often unable to play or even learn from the play experience. On the flip side, a smaller number of gifts allows kids to fully engage in the playing experience – whether this is a toddler focused on playing with building blocks or a 10 year old engaging with a scooter or musical instrument instead of five different gadgets.
It is in this ‘play mode’ that learning and development patterns occur in your child’s brain, and this is still hugely important at age 10. If you have any hope of getting your children to appreciate what they’ve got and enjoy gifts to their fullest degree, perhaps it would not hurt to reduce the number of expected presents you buy for your 10 year old this year.
Teaching Children the Value of Gifts (and Giving)
Perhaps you are not yet prepared to deny your child their most wanted and expected gifts? If this is the case, you can still teach them lessons in giving and demonstrating gratitude around their birthday. Not all kids will be on board with the idea of sacrificing their own presents to help others, but they may be able to learn the same values by doing the following actions. As their birthday approaches, help them develop a healthy attitude towards receiving and giving gifts by taking these steps together…
- Explore experiences vs gifts – toys and other physical birthday presents come and go, but kids are likely to treasure the memories of a great family day out forever, so this could be where you focus some of your gift giving energy. Findings show that both adults and kids are happier when money is spent on experiences rather than material possessions. This could mean a modest birthday trip to the zoo that ends with a gift shop memento or a whole day at the theme park as a family (or with a group of your child’s friends). Or it could mean the family trip to a certain state you always intended or perhaps Disneyland?
- Choose old toys to donate – family homes become easily cluttered when we don’t take stock of what we still use and love and what we don’t. So as your child’s birthday approaches, encourage them to look through their toy collection and choose which ones they may have outgrown or that no longer bring them joy. You can then take your kids with you to drop off old, unwanted toys at your local charity shop or organization. This can be a great opportunity to not only de clutter your home but to impart to your kids the value of giving to others less fortunate than them and help them to realize that less is more.
Organize some ‘generosity activities’ – as well as donating their old toys to charity, giving your 10 year old some hands-on experience in giving back to their community can really help to cement in their minds that helping others feels as good – if not better – than receiving a long list of presents. Non profit organizations such as Doing Good Together encourage families to get involved in creative activities that have a charitable cause. For example, your child could join other kids in making decorations for a local nursing home or hospital or work to put together ‘thank you’ bags of candy to thank community volunteers for their service to the environment or healthcare sector.