When Santa's sack is light, say no amid the ho ho hoopla

How to say no amid the ho ho hoopla

Chicago TribuneDecember 17, 2012 

20081124 Budget holiday

300 dpi Tim Lee color illustration of worried man, dressed in Santa hat and holiday tie, pulling out his empty pant-pockets. The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) 2008

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2008 NEWS & OBSERVER FILE - TIM LEE — tlee@newsobserver.com

  • Kids and Christmas Parents need not be afraid of their children’s disappointment, said Dr. Aaron Cooper, a clinical psychologist at the Family Institute at Northwestern University. The more that kids can practice experiencing this emotion, the easier it becomes for them when life disappoints them down the road, he said. “We want our children to be resilient in the face of disappointments; we want them to bounce back and know the world isn’t coming to an end when they’ve been disappointed,” Cooper said.

— A new car, iPad, iPod and a ping pong table are the big-ticket items that top Tamara O’Shaughnessy’s kids’ Christmas wish lists this year.

But O’Shaughnessy said that’s all they are: wishes.

With her husband out of work for more than two years and a tight family budget, O’Shaughnessy said her 10, 13 and 17-year-olds know this will be a “much more reasonable Christmas.”

“When we were both working, they were given everything on their wish lists,” said O’Shaughnessy, 48. “This year we sat down with the kids and said, ‘Let’s look at your list and prioritize.’ It’s hard to say ‘no’ to the iPad and iPod, but sometimes it’s the little things they’ll remember most.”

Kids everywhere crave the gadgets. A Nielson Survey recently found nearly half of children ages 6 to 12 put an Apple iPad on their holiday wish lists this year, for example. Depending on the size and capabilities, iPads range from $329 to $829.

The holiday season is famous for inflating commercialism – and many kids want expensive electronics, gadgets and toys. So how does a parent battle the holiday gimmies?

While many parents feel the pressure to “wow” their children around the holidays, Margret Nickels, director of Erikson Institute Center for Children and Families, said parents with tight budgets – or who are uncomfortable with the commercialism of the holidays – need to be comfortable with changing their idea of what good, caring parenting is.

“Good parenting is not about fulfilling your child’s every wish,” Nickels said. “It’s about trying to do nice things for them to the degree possible.”

Nickels suggests parents of younger children with long wish lists explain that Santa has more children to take care of this year as a way to talk about sharing and fewer gifts under the tree.

For older children, she believes honesty is best for explaining a reduced holiday budget.

“Parents can explain that they are taking care of the family and have to be a little more careful with the fun things they spend money on,” Nickels said. “They shouldn’t say, ‘We don’t have the money.’ That’s too scary.” A better response, she said: “Let’s focus on something a little more doable for us.’“

Nickels said another strategy parents could employ is to focus on the one bigger gift their child wants rather than buying a handful of smaller gifts for the same price.

Kenosha, Wis., resident Tina Peterson said Santa requests short wish lists from her kids. Her 8-year-old daughter and twin 5-year-old sons are to make wish lists with four items: one want, one need, one wear, one read.

“The best thing you can do as a parent is not spoil your kids,” said Peterson, 35.

Peterson said her boys’ “want” is Legos this year. Her daughter’s “need” is new pajamas. This year, the boys will get Star Wars books for their “read.”

Less is more

Dr. Aaron Cooper, a clinical psychologist at the Family Institute at Northwestern University, said parents will never be able to curb “the wants,” but said when it comes to indulging children, less is more.

“Our research is very strong in demonstrating that the children who receive less materially than other children end up in life with a sense of gratitude more often,” Cooper said. “If the gift that parents want to give their children is the gift of lifelong happiness and contentment, gratitude plays an important role in that.”

Though iPads won’t likely fall under the Christmas tree at their Munster, Ind., home, O’Shaughnessy said her kids know she puts a lot of thought into their gifts. She has also taken on some extra work to supplement their income and buy gifts, she said.

“They totally know what our financial situation is. If they didn’t, it would be harder for us as parents,” O’Shaughnessy said. “Kids are very smart, and shielding them doesn’t help. Communication is key.”

This year, her 13-year-old wants makeup and clothes, so O’Shaughnessy said she has planned a creative way to make these gifts special.

“They know it will be a happy Christmas, we just can’t do everything,” she said.

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