Managing Holiday Wish Lists

Carol Osborn is an early childhood educator and president of CAO Training Associates which offers workshops on parenting and early childhood education. She is the mother of six grown children and grandmother of thirteen.

Dear Carol,

My seven year old has already started asking for holiday gifts. We do try to give her what she wants for birthdays and Christmas, but this year we are experiencing a strain on our budget. We are concerned about how she will feel if she doesn’t get exactly what she has asks for. Is she too young for us to explain that these are tough economic times?
Jan and Rick in Culpeper

Dear Jan and Rick,

Most children who can read and who watch some TV news are aware of the economic situation in our country right now. They talk about current events in school and many teachers, even at the kindergarten level, begin to have children practice voting for president. So, she most likely has heard some of the issues facing our nation.

Children also are very sensitive to how their parents are feeling, so it is better to bring concerns that she can handle out in the open. This way she won’t wonder what’s wrong and perhaps interpret your concern in the wrong way. So, one idea could be to sit down with her and explain that since things are so expensive and money is tight right now because of the economy, your family will have to make some choices about what you want.

While your family is going through some economic challenges, it might be a good opportunity to teach kids about the difference between wants and needs and how to establish a balanced budget. Begin to ask what she knows about how money is earned and spent, or how people save their money for important things. She may know more than you think! Then add to her knowledge by telling her how you budget the money you earn for your family by getting the things you need first before buying all the things you might want. You may even have an example of a choice that you had to make, like choosing to buy a new sofa, instead of new lawn furniture.

Ask her what she really thinks she needs, and show her how you provide that for her. Let her know that you want to give her some of the things she wants, too, and make a list together of what is really important to her. Give her the opportunity to make some choices. You might set a dollar limit or a number of gifts limit based on your resources and personal values, and then help her shop in catalogs or online to develop a wish list.

Children learn a lot through stories and pick up on the social lessons they convey, so you might find it helpful to visit the library for some books about giving, sharing, making choices, and saving for the things we really want. A beautiful story about giving and love is The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. Another about the meaning of things that are special to us is the Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams and William Nicholson. Besides giving your child an introduction to quality literature, you are also boosting her financial and social/emotional literacy!

Finally, you might use this holiday season and tough economy as a time to reinforce your own family’s values about money, charitable giving, and volunteering. The holiday season is a great time to think about others who might have far less and think about ways that we can not only ask for what we want but help others as well. In talking about the needs of others, your child might see that she really has a lot and can be happy with just one gift this Christmas. She might also enjoy shopping for a child or family in need and learn that giving to others can sometimes feel just as good as getting!

Happy Holidays!


Do you have a parenting question that you’d like answered?
Email Carol Osborn at


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