3 Scary Reasons Not To Give Your Kids Too Many Presents

Give your kids an experience instead.

sisters opening christmas presents Prostock-studio / Shutterstock

Parents love giving their kids presents during the holidays, but what happens when they give too much?

Overindulging children is a common parenting blunder that always backfires and turns little darlings into ungrateful bullies who are never satisfied no matter how much they get. Before you go overboard and shower a child with gifts, consider these negative outcomes that will result in spoiled children.


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Too many gifts...

1. Increases destructive behavior

Kids who engage in greedy gift-grabbing during holidays suffer negative social and emotional ramifications that extend well beyond their childhood. According to a study from the University of Missouri, as adults, such children are more prone to credit-card debt, gambling, and compulsive shopping.

Sure, unwrapping a mountain of gifts produces a burst of happiness, but it has no staying power. Instead, it feeds an insatiable hunger for more.

2. Lowers self-esteem

Lasting self-esteem is rooted in a strong sense of identity, not materialism. Excess does not equal increased self-worth. Studies have shown there is no correlation between material possessions and self-esteem or happiness.


In fact, children who have fewer material possessions but positive relationships with parents and peers score higher on self-esteem assessment tests. They also have fewer behavior problems and demonstrate more resilience in the face of obstacles than kids with overindulging parents.

3. Robs children of lasting happiness.

Researchers publishing in Harvard’s Journal of Happiness found that people valued gifts they purchased for others more than gifts they bought for themselves. And when those “givers” completed a personal satisfaction scale, they consistently scored higher than those who purchased gifts for themselves.

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Helping your child develop generosity fosters a healthy sense of interconnectedness and boosts personal happiness. Kids who only value receiving gifts are more likely to grow to be egocentric and lack empathy.


I always ask parents who attend my parenting workshops: which kids are more likely to have parents who overindulge them during the holidays? Believe it or not, it’s the bullies. Kids who bully parents into overindulging them are more likely to get more gifts than kids who don’t.

Here are 3 kinds of holiday bullies:

1. The Defiant Bully

They demand gifts and feel entitled. (“I deserve this, you owe me.”) Engages in blackmail and threats to wear away parents’ resolve. Eventually, parents buy gifts to buy peace. But it’s never enough. The more parents give, the less these kids will appreciate and the more they will demand.

2. The Anxious Bully

Equates gifts with love. Constantly feels deprived, compares and despairs with peers, worries about not having enough, and fears being left out or forgotten. Guilts and shames parents into buying more.

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3. The Manipulative Bully

Exploits parents’ insecurities by engaging in lies and manipulations to get what he or she wants. Knows exactly which buttons to push to make parents feel insecure. Does anything to achieve his or her gift goals. But be warned: Even after manipulative bullies get what they want, they immediately start plotting for more.

Finally, here's what parents can do to deal with spoiled children around the holidays.

1. Set gift limits.

Meaningful gifts have more emotional value than a mountain of generic presents. Setting limits on gift-giving triggers more thoughtfulness and consideration in children. It also guarantees that everyone experiences an equal amount of giving and receiving. And remember, homemade gifts such as artwork or poetry can create memories that last longer than AA batteries.

2. Keep household schedules and limits intact.

Too often, parents allow sleeping schedules, chores, and other household structures to fall apart during Christmas and the holidays. Without structure, though, kids’ behaviors will deteriorate.

For example, if your child suddenly has unlimited access to sweets, stays up all night, and sleeps all day, you’re going to see more meltdowns, moodiness, and bullying. Loss of structure during the holidays is the number one cause of problematic behaviors.


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3. Focus on esteem-building gifts.

Aim for gifts that enhance creativity, talents, or motor skills, such as musical instruments, paints, cameras, etc. Children love to discover new talents. It strengthens their self-esteem and confidence. They also learn that they don’t need excessive belongings to feel good about themselves.

4. Teach the joy of giving.

Kids whose parents encourage them to give gifts to others experience a stronger sense of community and interconnectedness.


Help your kids learn the value of giving by engaging them in altruistic activities such as volunteer work or helping those in need. After all, isn’t that kind of giving the true spirit of the holiday?

Sean Grover is an author and psychotherapist. His parenting book, When Kids Call the Shots: How to Seize Control from Your Darling Bully and Enjoy Parenting Again received an Editor's Star Pick for Best New Non-Fiction from Publishers Weekly and appeared on New York Times recommended reading list for parents.