“Is it possible to spoil children at Christmas? It seems like my children never stop asking for stuff during the holidays. How do you know if your children are spoiled?”
Yes, it is possible to spoil children at Christmas. I have done it myself.
The good news is you can always change your family's focus and choose not to spoil the next year. If children are small it is easier to start the spoiling and easier to stop it. So, if your children are older, they may not understand the decrease in gifts as quickly as a younger child would.
Here are two true stories from my life when spoiling happened at Christmas time.
There is nothing more exciting than having a child to surprise on Christmas morning with a gift. And, during the shopping it is all too easy to add extra gifts into the cart. When we love some sweet little child and are thinking of surprising them and making them happy, we have a tendency to get carried away. We've all been there...
One such Christmas my four year old daughter was surprised with beautiful gifts from Santa, Mom and Dad, and family members. After the gift giving was over I looked at the pile of presents and wondered if I had made a mistake. But I was sure I had made a mistake when I witnessed what happened a short time later.
Grandma and Grandpa came to visit with a gift for Paije. After opening the gift Paije said, “Is that all?”
I was so embarrassed, and mortified that my daughter was so spoiled. What had I done? And more importantly, was it too late to fix the problem?
Needless to say, we had a great conversation about expressing appreciation that Christmas.
Christmas at our house has never been the same since.
Actually, I should have learned my lesson a few years before when I had another experience, but I guess I needed two experiences to encourage myself to have self-government while Christmas shopping.
This is what happened...If you have been a foster parent before you will understand this story better than most.
It was my first year as a foster parent, and with our meager income I had bought Christmas for my children and foster children. I had also been told by the agency in charge of the foster children that a Christmas sponsor would give a few things to the foster children. (This is a regular practice for foster agencies. In some cases these gifts from the sponsors will be all the foster children get, but in other cases, the foster child does not need sponsorship.)
Since I wasn't familiar with what kinds of things the sponsor would give I did some shopping too.
On Christmas my two foster children got gifts from me, gifts from their sponsors, and gifts from their families. (They each got to go home for a Christmas visit.)
At the end of the day, when we were cleaning up and organizing, we found that our foster children had enough gifts to fill a dryer box full. This made me sick! I remember thinking, “A person shouldn't have this many things. It's not healthy.”
Then the final lesson came when one of my foster children said, “I love foster care! I never got this much stuff at home.”
As much as I would have loved her to enjoy being at my house, this was not a lesson she should have learned.
Spoil means to go bad, corrupt, or pamper. When food is left out too long it goes bad, or spoils. The food was given too much environmental freedom. Likewise, when a person is given too much environmental freedom, meaning an environment not governed by principles or laws, then the person also spoils.
When a person overindulges on too much food it is a form of pampering. The indulgent person soon feels sick. The person is not able to function normally. He has temporarily gone bad. Likewise, when a person is overindulged with gifts, pleasures, or powers the person will go bad. The person is spoiled.
Remember That One Christmas?
Every Christmas, as a family, we read stories like The Christmas Scout, Golden Shoes For Jesus, Aaron's Christmas Tree, and The Year Of The Flexible Flyers. Each day in December we read another story and on the 23rd of December, under the Christmas tree, we read all the stories we haven't read yet.
These stories we read are about being grateful. Most of the stories are true stories about Christmases in times of poverty. These stories prick our hearts and invite us to focus on appreciating our abundance. In fact, with each story I often find myself craving a humble Christmas memory of my own.
Luckily I have had a few humble, poverty enhanced Christmases which I will always be grateful for, and look upon with fondness. These Christmases carry their own magical stories.
Porter's Christmas Miracle
Ten month old Porter had been coughing for days. I took him to the doctor and was told he was close to having pneumonia but didn't have it yet. I was given a machine to give him breathing treatments and told to give him a treatment every two hours day and night.
Each night I gave him the prescribed treatments, and each night I prayed for his recovery. I was praying for a miracle. Not only was I pleading with my Heavenly Father for a healthy baby, but I was begging for my husband to get work.
It had been a hard financial year for us. My husband was unexpectedly out of work and beginning a new business. We didn't have insurance and we didn't have any money for food little-lone Christmas.
One day I pulled my three other children around me after reading one of our favorite Christmas stories, Aaron's Christmas Tree, and told the child that just like the story, we wouldn't have a lot for Christmas that year. I told them that we would still have all the fun we usually had, but not to plan for lots of gifts. My children, who were not the worldly sort of children anyway, understood and didn't seem to be worried.
I had it all planned out, I knew the children needed some warm slippers, so I planned to get one pair of slippers each week with my food money. The plan went well. I knew the stockings would be a little limp, but there would be a present under the tree. I was excited for Christmas and planned for it to be a really romantic memory for my young family.
Then the stress came. Porter's breathing did not improve, despite my diligent efforts each day and night. I was hardly sleeping I was so worried. One night, I couldn't sleep. I was watching him struggle to breath and decided that it was time to take him to the hospital; even though it was four days before Christmas.
When I got Porter to the hospital he was admitted immediately. His oxygen level was too low and he was retracting with each breath.
After a day and a half in the hospital I went home to shower while my husband stayed with Porter. Many loving family and friends took our children into their homes right before Christmas so that we could be in the hospital with Porter. What a blessing that was.
Right after I arrived home, before I could even get to the shower, my door bell rang. Standing there on the porch was a very tall man I had never seen before. “Oh no, I thought, someone wants to sell me meat or something.” I was not in the mood for this with all the stress in my life right then.
“Is this the Peck's?” he said.
“Great.” I thought. “Who gave him my name?” Finally I spoke, “Yes.”
Then he walked away. I watched this tall, elderly gentleman walk toward his car. His wife was standing behind the car and she lifted the trunk open. He picked up a box, and she picked up a box, and they both walked back up to the porch.
Now I was really perplexed. What was happening? Would I get a shower? Who are these people?
They handed me the boxes and said, “Merry Christmas.”
Then I said, “Who are you?”
They responded, “That doesn't matter. We want you to have a Merry Christmas.”
The tears started pouring down my face in buckets as I said, “Are you doing this because you know my baby is in the hospital with pneumonia? Thank you. This is such a blessing.”
“You are welcome. Merry Christmas!”
I watched them drive away, closed the door, and bawled. How did they know? How did anyone know? Who was watching out for our family that year?
I went back to the hospital completely cleansed. Not just from the much needed shower, but from the many tears which had washed over me that evening. I had never felt such love.
The next day two more miracles happened. The mystery visitor magically showed up at the hospital with all the fixings for a Christmas dinner, and some how in the matter of a few hours Porter's health stabilized enough for us to go home for Christmas.
I still don't know who the visitor was, or how they found us in the hospital too. But, I do know they were full of love. They have no idea how much their Christmas gift touched our hearts and helped us have the most memorable Christmas ever.
My children also learned something new that year. They learned what Christmas really means. Especially the older ones felt the true meaning of Christmas and what loving all mankind is all about.
Teaching Children Appreciation At Christmas Time
After that magical Christmas our family has never seen Christmas quit the same. We just appreciate it more. In fact, we always find someone to give to or some way to give which is similar to how we were given to that special Christmas; even if that means we have less than what we gave. We are convinced that giving the best and the most is what giving is all about.
Also, we have a tradition which happens each December, called the house purge. During this time we de-junk major! My children know that Santa Clause can't come unless they have given up lots of their possessions. So, they clean out their rooms, closets, drawers and clutter corners and give stuff away. We load up the family car and take it all to the local Desseret Industries thrift store, or to people we know who might like it. D.I. Sends items all over the world as one of the largest humanitarian collection agencies in the world. They also give merchandise for free to local homeless shelters and those in need, as well as resell at affordable prices to the community.
One year my four year old son, Quinton, taught us all a great lesson by giving his newest best toy to the D.I. During clean out. I really didn't want him to give it because I had just bought it and it was a costly toy. Then he said, “Mom, the people who get this toy will get the best toy I have. I don't want them to have the yucky, ugly toys, I want them to have the good ones. They will be more happy with the good ones.”
Another way we teach our children to appreciate Christmas and the gifts is by setting a limit on how many there will be. This keeps mom and dad from over-doing the shopping as well as keeps the children thinking in a more logical, not as greedy, way.
We give a gold gift, which is something they want, a frankincense gift, which is something they need, and a myrrh gift, which is a family gift. Besides these things we also put a few small fun things in the stockings. When my children make lists they often list gold, frankincense, and myrrh next to each gift idea. We all love the tradition. Limiting gifts keeps us all focused on the right Christmas feelings and on not expecting too much. Incidentally, we also give our children an idea of how much we spend on Christmas for each of them too. This way they don't ask for something way out of the price range.
The last idea for teaching children to appreciate at Christmas time instead of becoming spoiled is to do more than gifts. Make memories to last a life-time. Do special things. Here is an article I wrote last year called “Christmas Traditions Your Family Will Love.” There are many good ideas there for great memory making moments.