Teaching Your Kids Not to be Greedy

10 easy ways to teach your kids generosity this holiday season.

Casey Slide
5-minute read

The best part of the holiday season is that it brings out the best in people. Many folks give their time, money, and love to family, friends, and those who are less fortunate. The flip side is that this time of the year can also bring out the worst in people—specifically, their greed. Take, for example Black Friday, which often results in volatile behavior and even trampling deaths.

As adults, we can (and should) serve as better examples to the younger generation. So how can we teach our kids not to be greedy in a culture where whoever has the most toys wins?  It's not easy and it takes some initiative on your part, but it's well worth it to teach your children to value compassion over materialism, and to care for their fellow human beings.

So here are 10 Quick and Dirty Tips for teaching your kids not to be greedy:

1. Set a Good Example

This is the number one way to pass on good morals and habits. Kids naturally emulate their parents and the habits they learn from you go deeper than any marketing schemes they’ll see on TV. These habits are also essential to the kind of adults they become. So it's important to make your best impression now. Here are several ways to set a good example:

o Focus on and discuss what you want to give, rather than what you want to receive.

o Don't buy anything on a whim. Plan, save, then spend.

o Make homemade holiday decorations and gifts instead of spending a fortune on them.

o Emphasize the importance of doing nice things for others throughout the year, not just during the holidays.

2. Volunteer Your Time 

Even if you don't have extra money to spend on gifts or food for the needy, you can still help out with a variety of causes—and your kids can help out, too. Here are a few ideas:

o Visit nursing homes to sing Christmas carols or deliver holiday treats and cards.

o Donate food to a soup kitchen or food bank and help serve a meal.

o Participate in a charitable gift giving event, such as Toys for Tots.

o Donate goods or holiday messages to a homeless shelter.

o Send letters and care packages to soldiers on deployment via Letters To Soldiers.

o Make a point to practice random acts of kindness. If you see someone in need of assistance, offer your help. Even simply holding a door open could make someone's day.

3. Make Your Kids Earn Money

Many children want to buy the presents they give. If your child expresses such an interest, encourage them to earn money by working for you, a family member, a trusted neighbor, or a friend. Walking the dog, mowing the lawn, raking leaves, or shoveling snow are all great ways to earn enough money to buy gifts. Your children will learn that money doesn't come easily, and they'll likely value the presents they receive that much more if they know what it’s like to work for every dollar.

4. Limit the Number of Gifts You Give

Don't be fooled into thinking that gifts will make your children happy. Gifts and "things" are no replacement for your time and love. In fact, an abundance of gifts may diminish the value of each individual gift. Furthermore, your children may surmise that they can get whatever they want by simply asking.

As with many aspects of life, moderation is key. Alternatively, you can focus on giving a number of smaller gifts if the joy of unwrapping multiple presents is just too much to sacrifice.

5. Emphasize the Reason for the Season

You may celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Yule, or something else entirely. No matter your family’s religious (or non-religious) affiliation, most traditions have specific reasons as to why this time of year is special, and they have nothing to do with presents.

If you want your children to honor those reasons, you need to emphasize them so they do not become buried beneath the very loud, material aspects of the season. 

6. Explain Your Holiday Budget

A great way to explain the concept of money management is to include your kids in your holiday budget and spending plans. Tell them how much money you have to spend and let them help you allocate it for everything on your shopping list, including gifts, food, and holiday decorations. During the shopping process and afterwards, show them how you were able to stay on budget. Not only does this teach kids to spend within their means, it may also give them an opportunity to learn various saving strategies, such as buying in advance and using coupons.

7. Give Away Old Books and Toys

Ask your children to pick out a couple of toys they no longer use or books they think another kid would appreciate. Then, find out where you can donate—perhaps to a hospital or homeless shelter. Or, you could give books and toys as gifts to friends or family. Plus, you'll help the planet by recycling instead of sending used toys to a landfill.

8. Involve Your Kids in the Gift-Giving Process

Since there are multiple steps involved in giving gifts, it’s a good idea to involve your child in every step of the way so that they are invested in the process and learn just how much time and effort it takes. From making a list of recipients, to brainstorming possible gifts for each person, to the shopping, wrapping, and, finally, the giving, let your kids be part of this process. 

9. Create Holiday Traditions That Don’t Include Gifts

Make an effort to de-emphasize the material aspect of the holiday season, and instead, focus on instilling your own holiday traditions that have nothing to do with gifts. Whether that’s going to Grandma’s house for a big meal, singing songs, decorating the house,  playing family Twister, or building a snowman (if you live in cold climates), your kids will learn to focus on these traditions rather than on unwrapping yet another in a series of expensive toys that they will forget about 10 minutes later. 

10. Always Say Thank You

Besides being simply polite, saying Thank You is an expression of gratitude. If you say thank you often and teach your children to do the same, they will learn that gratitude is important.

At heart, greed is about fear, the fear of not having enough. Therefore, it's virtually impossible to be greedy when you feel grateful for what you have. Show your gratitude by writing thank you cards or making phone calls to those who gave you gifts, and encourage your children to do the same.

The Bottom Line

The holidays are a busy time, but don't let that deter you from teaching your children to be gracious and giving human beings. Realize, however, that children are often egocentric by nature and can be master manipulators. Make sure not to give in to their demands, and follow through with what you say.

For example, don't tell your child you will only give two gifts and then buy him or her five. Stay strong and know that all the effort you pour into your kids and the good example you set will pay off in the near future.

Casey Slide is a stay-at-home mom based in Atlanta. She writes about personal finance, money management, and parenting for Money Crashers.

Girl with Candy image courtesy of Shutterstock