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How To Effectively Shop For The Holidays And Avoid The Holiday Gimmes

   By: Dr. Charles Sophy

Ah… the magic of the holidays. We've all grown up with the comfort and mystery of our holiday traditions: oranges in our stockings, presents under the tree, the lighting of the menorah, and more! Our Holiday memories are full of mom's home cooking, dad's stories, and the love and laughter of friends and family. As adults, we try to recreate those memories for our children – to impart in them the same sense of mystery and wonder of our youth. But how do we do that in an increasingly material world?

Shopping for our children nowadays can be quite an uncomfortable and expensive experience. Pick up any Saturday newspaper in the months of November and December and you'll find it stuffed with dozens of flyers promising the best deal on all the must-have items: an iPod, a RoboRaptor, or the V-Smile educational toys. Chances are your child's wish list included one or two high-end gadgets and toys. With a list 30 items long, it's no wonder you feel stuck – stuck between buying expensive gifts and the feelings and concerns you have for the messages that you may be sending to your children by buying them.

You may find yourself wondering how to handle the conflict: “I want my child to have what they want, and at the same time I want my child to have boundaries to their expectations.”

Let's take a look:

Sean is 9 yrs old and lives with his Mom and Dad and 2 yr old sister. His family went to see Santa last weekend and as expected Sean brought along his list for Santa. On his list, much to his parents' surprise was an iPod, and a laptop computer! Both of his parents were taken aback and confused by such high expectations from their son.

On the way to Santa's Village they began a discussion about why he thought that he wanted these items. Predictably, Sean stated “All my friends have them and they are really neat!!!” His parents looked at each other and were very clear that not only could they not afford both of these items but also they were not sure why a nine year-old needed such things.

Mom and Dad were also aware that several of Sean's peers have or will receive these types of items for their holiday gifts.

Later that evening after the children were in bed, Mom and Dad discussed their concerns and how to proceed: Do we buy those items for him? Do we say no and have him feel left out of his social network? Do we buy one and not the other?

All very good questions but what is the correct answer? There is no truly correct answer. The answer lies within his parents' belief system and the messages that they want their children to receive at times such as these.

The bottom-line: If you believe that these types of presents set unrealistic expectations and do not truly encompass the lessons of the Holiday Season or the financial goals you have for your family will not allow these types of purchases, then stick to your beliefs. Do not give in to the holiday gimmes. For the messages, both verbal and non-verbal, are loud and clear to your children by your choices in gifts. Many parents are not sure how to talk to their child about the reality of these situations and the reasoning behind their not purchasing what the child has requested. Parents need to be honest and open about their motivations and decisions.

This holiday season; keep in mind the following tips:

Self Awareness: Be clear about your motivations to purchase.

Know: Messages that come from your gift-giving.

Communicate: To your child the reasons and messages discovered above, and allow them to share their feelings.

Resolve: For children their confusion and disappointment that may arise from your decisions.

Re-direct: Your child as to the origins of the season and allow them to find ways to give back and re-align their expectations.


Dr. Charles Sophy currently serves as Medical Director for the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), which is responsible for the health, safety and welfare of nearly 40,000 foster children. He also has a private psychiatry practice in Beverly Hills, California. Dr. Sophy has lectured extensively and is an Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of California Los Angeles Neuro-Psychiatric Institute. His lectures and teachings are consistently ranked as among the best by those in attendance.

Dr. Charles Sophy, author of the “Keep ‘Em Off My Couch” blog, provides real simple answers for solving life's biggest problems. He specializes in improving the mental health of children. To contact Dr. Sophy, visit his blog at

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