Having a child write out a gift list for Santa loses its charm somewhere between “dolly and scooter” and “iPad and cash.”

The older children get, the greedier they tend to be during the holidays. And, the less fun it is for parents to buy gifts when the magic is gone and the whole enterprise seems transactional.


Post columnist Michelle Singletary described it this way: “They no longer believe in Santa Claus, so the demands for specific things are harder to evade. And because they know they may get only a few things, what they want is usually something expensive with a brand name.”

She went on to offer suggestions for parents about how to find bargains and coordinate a swap of gently used gifts with friends.

Meanwhile, columnist Carolyn Hax fielded a question from a grandmother who enjoys taking her 10 grandchildren shopping, but now that the oldest is 17, she has developed “expensive tastes.” Levelheaded Hax advised the grandmother to stick to her budget and let the granddaughter know that she will get the same amount of money to spend at a discount store or for full retail.

What about tackling the problem even earlier, before a child asks for that fancy gift? Or, before it even occurs to that child to ask?

After reading those columns, and noticing how holiday wish lists are sounding more demanding in my own home, I reached out to Sara Hacala, an etiquette specialist and the author of “Saving Civility: 52 Ways to Tame Rude, Crude & Attitude for a Polite Planet,” (Skylight Paths, 2011).

“How might a parent curb greediness at this time of year?” I asked .

Her first response, “Don’t get me started.”

Her second was lengthier and worth considering, even if it’s not the quick fix I had hoped for. Excerpts are below.

“Parents who want to curb their children’s over-zealousness in this capacity — countering their offspring’s greed with an admonishment that they, instead, should adopt gratefulness — must realize one important factor: Gratitude is not seasonal.

“Rather, it is a mindful and deliberate practice that must be cultivated as a way of life, as opposed to a convenient tool that can be trotted out at a moment’s notice as an antidote for a kid’s avarice. It is a value that is modeled by parents and nurtured as part of a family’s culture and belief system — being grateful for all that we have, not continually yearning for that which we do not. Part of that practice can also be distinguishing needs from wants. . . .

“It is never too late to begin the practice of gratitude, regardless of age. Nor is it too late to instill the value of money, as well as the effort required to earn that money. If children are given an allowance, for instance, they themselves can begin to save money toward that expensive purchase that they themselves make; in so doing, they will reap a reward far greater than the item in the gift box from someone else . . .

“It is also okay to have conversations with kids about not hitting their relatives up for stuff. ‘You know, your grandparents are retired now and don’t have the income or cash flow that they once did,’ could be a strategy to make a kid think twice about the potential sacrifice that he is asking others to make. If limited income is not an issue, it is perfectly fine to tell children that their relatives are not convenient wells from which they can quench their insatiable thirst.

“It is also acceptable for parents to speak to relatives — in some cases, their own parents — about limiting how much they spend on gifts. In our family, it wasn’t our daughter’s wishes that had to be monitored and curbed, it was my mother’s generosity, which was boundless, as she loved indulging and spoiling her only grandchild . . .

“Lastly, parents can encourage children to make lists of gifts that they plan to give to others, not just what they want to receive. At whatever age, when kids are aware of the time, talent, and/or treasure that they might offer, they will learn a lot about the reciprocity of both living and giving.”

How are you curbing greed this season? Do you have a strategy that works?

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