Christmas, that wonderful, stressful, and at times, infuriating, season, has come upon us again, with carols and complaining, noels and nagging.

It’s not that I’m cynical, but let’s face it, most our children have a toxic case of the gimmees. And yet, can we blame them? In America our discontent is continually fueled by the ever-flowing credit cards and television commercials. It’s no surprise, then, that greed and materialism have infiltrated even the most pious of homes. But I refuse to declare defeat. To the contrary, I long to squelch the gimmees in every way possible. Not only is this the right thing to do but my child’s emotional and relational well-being depends on it.

Selfishness and greed destroys, as Paul reminds Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:9-10:

“But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows” (NLT).  

The Bible provides numerous examples of greed leading to self-destruction, but the most vivid is that of David’s son Absolom. Raised in opulence and void of instruction or boundaries, the young man’s greed led to murderous proportions. Discontent with his princely status, he longed to be king and determined to do whatever it took to dethrone his father, even if it meant waging war against him (2 Samuel 15). Absolom’s greed consumed him, destroying his relationships and ultimately leading to his death (2 Samuel 18:1-18).

As this story illustrates, greed is a big deal. When left unchecked, it grows to metastasizing proportions that can ultimately destroy relationships and inner peace while hindering our children from embracing the greatest blessings of peace and joy Christ provides. And in the short term, it can turn what should be a holy, grace-filled holiday into one of tension, fighting, and stress.

This Christmas, counter the gimmees with these four actions.

1. Focus on Developing the Positive

Most of us respond better to encouragement than criticism. Our children are no different. According to child psychologist Dr. Kevin Leman, all children long for attention. Some get this through positive behaviors, others through negative. Our goal then, is to encourage good behavior through praise and attention.

It’s much more effective to catch and praise a child for doing right than it is to correct them for doing wrong. When dealing with the gimmees, then, we should focus largely on developing the counter trait, which is generosity. We can do this numerous ways. For example, we may suggest our children donate clothing to a local charity, or perhaps we can encourage them to sell cookies to help fund a soup kitchen. Most memorable, we can take our child by the hand and do something altruistic with them.

As we’re brainstorming possible positive behaviors, it helps to consider our children’s natural passions, giftedness, and bents, trying to incorporate appropriate activities. For example, if our child loves to draw, perhaps we can encourage them to make cards for residents in a local nursing home. This will help bring the activity from a have-to to a want-to. Whatever the activity, our efforts will have the greatest payoff when they are pleasurable.

According to neurobiologist Dr. Russell Poldrack, pleasant behaviors can cause your brain to release a chemical called dopamine. Dopamine is a hormone closely connected with our brain’s reward center. This in turn can create a craving for the pleasurable activity.

Here’s how we’ve done this in the Slattery home. For almost a year, our family helped serve dinners at a local homeless ministry called Takin’ it to the Streets. The service project was on a Friday night, was often a lot of work, often incredibly hot, and routinely forced our daughter out of her comfort zone. In other words, there were a lot of potential negatives involved, enough to cause her to hate the endeavor entirely.

Knowing this, we added fun to our event by first, as a family, going out for ice cream. Then, on the drive there and back, we talked about what we’d experience, how God was using each of us, what He was showing us, and what we enjoyed most about the activity. By doing this we kept it relational and positive. 

2. Expose Your Kids to the Impoverished or Disadvantaged

The world around us constantly shapes our attitudes and perceptions—it’s human nature. When my daughter was younger and spent a great deal of time around the affluent, her desire for material things and discontentment grew. The opposite occurred once she began to encounter the impoverished. After a few weeks of serving at Takin’ it to the Streets, she approached me to inquire about her dressing choices.

Hair pulled back in a ponytail, she ascended the stairs dressed in faded blue jeans and a baggy t-shirt. She wanted to know how I thought the women served at Takin’ it to the Streets would perceive her outfit. Expanding further, she shared how she didn’t want to make them feel inferior by anything she wore. In addition, she wanted to dress as modestly as possible so that none of the drunken men would hit on her.

This was significant because prior to serving at the Streets, she and I had engaged in numerous battles over her clothing choices, but now, she came to me willingly, asking for advice on her choice of dress. In other words, she experienced deep growth and an attitude change by spending time with the disadvantaged.

3. Just Say No

It’s said, the best way to grow an appetite is to feed it; the best way to shrink an appetite is to starve it. In other words, if we’re serious about combatting the gimmees, we’re going to have to learn to say no.

I believe this is an area we all struggle with to some degree, for numerous reasons. Before we can say no, we need to determine and deal with the reason we have a difficult time doing so.

Some indulge their children out of guilt, trying to make up for time not spent, promises broken, or poor parental choices made. Others attempt to soothe their kids’ emotional wounds and disappointments with material things. Though this might appear beneficial in the short term, material placation merely acts as a band-aide. This not only increases the pull of materialism, but it also hinders emotional development and coping skills. The better option would be to discuss and deal with the core issue, working through it with our child. That’s not to say we can’t offer gifts. Rather, we should be intentional when we do so and be conscious of the potential habits we might be forming and the messages we may be sending.  

When our daughter was young, she went through a very awkward and painful period socially. Not knowing how to help her, my husband and I occasionally took her shopping. In doing so, we fed the gimmees and taught her to seek comfort in material things. Rather than helping her develop the confidence she’d need to navigate through her tween years, our actions isolated her further. In other words, by focusing on her temporary comfort, we hindered her long-term growth. As I prayed about this and her situation, I realized much of the problem lay within my heart.

Her teary-eyed requests for the latest, most desired gadget tore at my heart, not because I thought she’d die without it. Rather, it was the emotional significance I placed on the item that brought me the greatest angst. I gave in to the culture’s lie that said she had to have in order to be.

And yet, God’s Word tells us not to be conformed to the ways of this world. Rather, we, and our children, are to be transformed by renewing our minds. We do this by meditating on and memorizing God’s Word and teaching our children to do the same. This won’t instantly eradicate the gimmees in us or our children or our parental resolve but it will turn our hearts and the hearts of our children toward the things of God. As this happens, the things of the world lose their pull.

But saying no alone isn’t enough. They say it’s easier to create a good habit than it is to break a bad one. 

4. Use Moderation

When frustrated by particular behaviors, it’s easy to become reactive rather than proactive. For example, some parents become so irritated by their children’s greed, they determine to forgo gifts all together. This reaction could work against them by causing their children to become resentful. Though, with sufficient discipline and threats, their kids might cooperate, their behavior is likely to be short-lived.

When parenting, our goal should always be to reach our children’s hearts for this is where true and lasting change occurs. We long to raise caring, generous empathetic children who give because they believe it’s the right thing to do, it’s become habit, and it gives them pleasure to do so.

If the gimmees have infiltrated your children this holiday season, consider countering this by knowing when and having the strength to say no, creating pleasant opportunities for them to serve, and exposing them to those who are less fortunate than they are. When done consistently, these activities can help ensure our children grow up to be caring adults who give back to their community. And in the meantime, they can help remove the wining from your family’s winter wonder land of Christmas.

Jennifer Slattery lives in the midwest with her husband and their teenage daughter. She writes for Christ to the World Ministries, Internet Cafe Devotions, and maintains a devotional blog at JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud. Her work has appeared in numerous publications and compilation projects, and currently writes missional romance novels for New Hope Publishers.

Publication date: December 18, 2014