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How Do We Prevent Our Children From Becoming Spoiled Brats?

My girls are really good kids. At least I think so. They watch a fair bit of television and their nutritional proclivities need some work, but they are kind, thoughtful little creatures. I'm proud of this. I hope it continues.

The winter months are a challenge for us because they are chock-full of celebrations and gifting opportunities. Christmas obviously brings with it lists for Santa, expectations for certain loot, and endless goodies, edible and other. The season seems to spread itself wide, stretching for the whole month of December and beyond. It doesn't help that we celebrate with both my family and Husband's; there are gifts in both places, stockings in both places, doting grandparents, aunts and uncles in both places, and a surplus of cousins on my side. And then. And then it is Big Girl's birthday and this usually entails several parties. The family parties - at home, with my family, with Husband's. And the friend party. By the middle of the month (a.k.a. Now) our home is stuffed with stuff.

But this is not a post about stuff. It's not a post about excess at the end of which I will predictably proclaim: Less is more! This post would be a compelling one; maybe I will write it and soon. But this post is about children.

My children. Your children. Children.

Okay, cut to the chase: When my kids receive lots of things, they ask for more things. They do not quite grasp that holidays and birthdays are discrete days that come and go, that they are not entitled to new stuff everyday. When I try to explain to my kids that they are fortunate, that they should appreciate what they have, they seem to understand but then they often slip into some kind of whine-fest/shockingly-articulate-negotiation-mode that drives me marginally berserk. Now, I must say, this whiny business has gotten leagues better in the recent weeks, but I think this is worth discussing because from what I've gathered by talking to fellow parental units, I am far from alone.

How do we prevent our children from becoming spoiled brats?

This question has been on my mind a lot lately. Husband and I have had many a conversation about this. And we've come to no ready conclusion. There are the obvious approaches: Do not give them an excessive number of gifts! Do not allow them to attend an excessive number of birthday parties or have birthday parties that are excessive in nature! If they have birthday parties, institute a no-gift policy up front! Engage your kids in meaningful service/charity opportunities through which they can gain perspective and glimpse lives of the less-fortunate!

There is no doubt that all of these things could work. I know that. But here's the thing: My girls are five, three, and ten months. They are young. They are still new to this world. They can only grasp and internalize so much. I would love to know how to more subtly instill in them a sense of gratitude and graciousness. The reality is that they will get gifts. The reality is that they will go to parties. The reality is that they will celebrate holidays and birthdays multiple times. The reality is that they will be exposed to privilege and entitlement and stuff.

What can we do in the face of these realities? What should we do?

I write this because I am a mother and this strikes me as an important challenge.

I write this because I have a hunch this has been a challenge many of you have faced in one form or another with various degrees of success.

Mostly though, I write this because I love them and I care. About who they are now. And, also, who it is they become.

{The big girls' lovely 2011 letter to Santa featuring an exquisitely-rendered Rudolph.}

Oh. P.S. - For any of you following the delightful Rowley vomit saga with interest, Big Girl, our last one standing, bit the dust last night. Poor babe. Five for five!

Any bits of more practical or philosophical wisdom on how we can avoid spoiling our children? How do we maintain the purity and goodness we glimpse in them this early on?

Pajamas. Presence. Peace.

Misery & Family