How to Cope With Greedy Kids During the Holidays

How to Cope With Greedy Kids During the Holidays

Here’s how to cure greedy-kid syndrome during the holidays.

By Jeanne Sager

There are always at least one or two videos that pop up online during the holiday season with a kid (or kids) throwing a tantrum over the presents they got, or more likely didn’t get. Maybe you weighed in in the comments section about kids today … or maybe you shuddered because that child on the screen looks an awful lot like your kid.

Try as we might to make the holiday season a time of giving, rather than receiving, it’s no surprise kids can develop a bad case of the “gimme gimmes” during the holidays, and it’s not exactly their fault, either. The adults in their lives tend to ramp up the materialistic tendencies at the tail end of the year.

“It is quite easy, as a child, to become encapsulated by the material nature of our holidays as depicted by the numerous presents under the tree, or the gift-based classroom celebrations occurring before the holiday break,” explains Dr. Andria Hernandez, a ‎licensed clinical psychologist and director of clinical training at Argosy University. “The enjoyment experienced when receiving and opening a gift is a very reinforcing feeling for both adults and children. This feeling is natural.”

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But while it may be natural for a child to ask for more, more, more, it’s something parents should nip in the bud as early as they can. So how do you keep your kids from going greedy this year?

The process starts with us.

“We have to remember that kids literally are sponges,” says Dr. Dion Metzger, professor in psychiatry at Emory University School of Medicine, Medical College of Georgia. “Their brains respond to what they see others (siblings, parents, friends) do and what images they see on the internet and in television.”

Dr. Metzger suggests parents take a step back before throwing themselves into holiday planning, and remember what it was like to be a kid. While today’s children may ask for different sorts of gifts, the joy of unwrapping hasn’t changed. Keeping things simple on your end can help them enjoy the simple things too.

The experts also advise parents take the time to give back with their kids, modeling the sort of gracious behavior we want to see at any time of the year (not just the holidays).

There’s science behind the idea of creating gratitude journals for your kids, whereby they’re asked to scribble a few lines about what they’re grateful for each day to develop their appreciation. In one study by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, adolescents were rewarded with money for keeping daily journals and given the choice to donate the funds or keep them. Kids who recorded things they were grateful for, rather than just noting daily activities, were much more likely to donate the funds than to keep them.

Dr. Hernandez also suggests family nights centered around the themes of generosity and gratitude, including inspirational movies or books about giving. You can also take a day to bake cookies with your kids, then pile them into the car to deliver containers of those fresh-baked cookies to your local homeless shelter, or spend an afternoon sorting through their old toys to find the gently used (but not abused) items that could find a second home with another family. Make sure to take your kids along when you make the donation, so they’re part of the process from start to finish.


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“I have especially seen a lot of benefit with the community service where kids look forward to that part of the holiday the following year,” Dr. Metzger notes. “They like donating toys or clothes to those in need. It's a win-win where you help others and encourage kindness in your children.”

So what if you’ve tried all of that, and your kids have a meltdown when they’re watching others open gifts that they really wanted? Keep in mind this too is normal behavior for kids, albeit behavior parents should be trying to curb.

“The event of gift-opening can be the epitome of materialistic encapsulation for a child,” says Dr. Hernandez. “Shifting that hyper-focus from materialism to gratitude can be done through gentle reminders of what was learned during recent gratitude events, by talking about the history or story behind the holiday, or by focusing the event on giving gifts to others rather than on receiving them.”

To head tantrums off at the pass, you can suggest some “rule” that encourage gratitude before gift-opening even begins. For example, when a gift is opened, the giver could be given a chance to tell the receiver how special he or she is, or the receiver could be asked to make a show of thanks for each gift.

And if your child is still asking more, more, more, don’t despair. “It's not too late,” Metzger says. “At that time, you will have to have a talk that the ‘gimmes’ are too much. Explain to them that it’s not just about what you can get. It's not going to be an instant fix, but by not always giving when they yell ‘gimme,’ the behavior should start slowing down.”

What do you do when your kids ask for just too much stuff?

Jeanne Sager is a freelance writer, photographer and social media junkie. She lives in upstate New York with her husband, daughter, and way too many pets. You can follow her @JeanneSager.

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