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How much is too much?

By By Stephanie Nelson
With the constant pressure to "buy, buy, buy" facing consumers with each commercial on television, parents must limit themselves during the Christmas season and ask "when is it too much?"
"It's quite natural for parents to be givers, especially during a holiday season when giving is an important tradition," said Dr. Jason Scofield, associate professor of human development and family studies at the University of Alabama. "There is a natural reward in bringing joy to children. However, over-giving is problematic as it may create unreasonable expectations in children and may threaten a family's resources.
For example, overspending on expensive gifts one month can significantly impact spending the next month, especially for parents living on a fixed income. The solution isn't always easy as parents must learn to spend wisely and, when needed, make a conscious, firm decision to say no." Scofield urges that despite what a child may ask for, parents need to be realistic when determining how much to spend and what to buy for their children each Christmas.
"It's important for parents to be candid with themselves about what can and cannot be afforded," he said. "Children may not expect more every year. "It's difficult to define what is "too much," in part because it varies tremendously from family to family.
"That said, parents should not overspend during the holiday," he said. "The reward to parents of giving an expensive gift is often short-lived while the consequence can be significant."
Scofield said that under no circumstance should holiday spending result in new debt, and if parents are concerned about overspending they can try a number of strategies including:
While it may seem the demand for gifts increases with each year, Scofield said it's more likely the increase in prices is what parents are feeling.
"In fact, children may not even accurately remember what they received in a previous year," he said. "Memory, especially long-term memory in preschool and elementary children, is not fully mature. "However, while children may not expect more every year, there's a good chance that many gifts will become more expensive over a year's time and, as your child ages, the types of things they're interested in become more expensive," he said. "Also, children may simply want lots of gifts, no matter how many they receive in any given year."
And once the presents are opened, parents shouldn't be disappointed if children don't give the expected reactions, Scofield said.
"It's also important for parents to understand that preschool and elementary school children's ability to monitor and regulate their emotions is still developing," he said. "As a consequence, children at this age may display over-the-top reactions to things that are both exciting and disappointing. Note that rather than reflecting a true emotional state, these displays may be evidence that children are still learning to appropriately calibrate each emotion."
For parents who feel Christmas has become too commercialized, Scofield recommends looking for other ways to get into the "spirit of giving."
"The holidays mean different things to different families," he said. "But,if parents fear that the 'spirit of giving' is missing from their children's holiday there are steps that can be taken toward relocating it like volunteering with children in a toy or food drive; by making and giving gifts to teachers, classmates, friends, and neighbors; or by donating their own toys."