Healthy Kids    

Child Behavior: Do huge quantities of gifts physically harm children?

Less can be much more when it comes to gifts for our kids

How many of us watch with dismay as our children tear open their gifts and toss them aside to get to the next one? Is this behavior healthy? Is it reasonable to tell them to slow down and appreciate what they were given? Maybe this season is a good time to teach or re-teach the lesson of giving, rather than receiving, to our children. Dr. David Elkind, one of the country’s leading developmental psychologists and author of numerous books (his latest titled “The Power of Play”), cites numerous problems with the overindulgent lifestyles many of our children find themselves in.

Elkind believes that children who have so much lose the ability to view anything as special. Remember that favorite toy, stuffed animal or game you had as a child, and how much it meant to you? Today’s toys are as disposable as yesterday’s newspaper.

Dr. Elkind is also concerned with the proliferation of Attention Deficit Disorder as a diagnosis for our children and their seeming inability to attend to anything for more than a short time. He and other professionals believe this phenomenon may be due in no small part to the overabundance of toys, games and multiple digital and video devices available to children today.

I am as guilty of being overindulgent with my children as anyone else. I remember my youngest daughter asking me if I had a playground in my backyard when I was a little boy. When I told her I didn’t because I lived in an apartment building, and that I also didn’t have anywhere near the amount of toys she has when I was her age, she looked as if she felt sorry for me and asked me what we did for fun.

I told her we played hide and seek, hopscotch, stickball, box-ball, rode our bikes, roller-skated or went to a schoolyard with a bat and ball or a basketball, and on some days we just went to another street and explored. When I get together with old friends we remember our childhoods as a wonderfully happy time, not a time of deprivation because we didn’t have an abundance of toys and games.

You can teach a spoiled child new tricks! Learn how here!

Do possessions equal happiness?
Money and possessions do not equal happiness either for us or our children. Researchers tell us that what appears to bring happiness to children beyond the comfort and security they feel from a relationship with loving, interested and involved parents, is being passionately involved in a chosen activity. Children who are altruistic, who engage in selfless giving, have higher self-esteem and a positive self-image that stays with them, helping them be happier people and lead a happier life well beyond childhood.

The holiday season is a perfect time to teach children to give to others. As with all other behaviors our children learn the behaviors we model as parents. When our children see us support causes and groups that give to less fortunate families, they will follow our lead.

Have your children go through their toys and games and give some of the unused or gently used ones to a battered women’s shelter or some other local community group that supplies food, toys or funds for needy families during the holiday season. Have children give some of their savings to one of these groups or forgo one of their own gifts.

Giving to a charity the money that would have gone to the gift is also a good way for a child to feel involved, in a very concrete way, in the spirit of giving. Your family could also sponsor a child through an organization that supports children in need.

Children get a chance to not only help a child less fortunate than themselves, but they can also communicate with this child throughout the year. Host a charity party. The group
Artists Helping Children encourages children to hold a party where they stuff teddy bears and then give the bears to sick or destitute children.

Giving clothing, toys, games, even pennies to a sidewalk Santa help children internalize the concept of altruism. Don’t minimize any opportunity! Start this holiday season doing what you intend to do: making your children happy.

I, too, enjoy seeing the sparkle of excitement as my child unwraps a gift, but I also know that treasured long beyond the objects unwrapped and sometimes lost or discarded are the memories of the time shared between us. Give your children a holiday experience, something that will stay with them and help them develop character throughout their lives. Season’s greetings and the best for a wonderful New Year to all Hudson Valley Parent readers and their families.

Paul Schwartz, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology and education at Mount Saint Mary College. He is available for speaking engagements to parent groups.