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How to unspoil your kids... and the holidays

Oops. You’re out shopping and accidentally wandered past the toy section with the kids. Now, their “gimmees” are drowning out the festive holiday music, and your efforts to celebrate the holidays without spoiling your children are flying out the window.

You’re not the only one. TODAY Moms and Parenting.com surveyed 6,000 moms online and found that 76 percent admit that it’s a season of spoiling for their kids—with the average parental spending on gifts  a whopping $271 per child. One in 25 would do whatever it takes, from waiting in lines outside at 4 a.m. to wrestling other bleary eyed parents out of the way, for the chance to wrap up the “hot” items for their kids.

Read the full results of our 'Spoiled by the Holidays' survey

Related: Parents share their kids' worst spoiled-brat moments
Related: Parents on how they try to raise grateful kids
More on the spoiling survey from Parenting.com

But we do require something in return: 57 percent of us use Santa to help make our kids behave, and 98 percent will take action if a child pitches a fit instead of thanking Grandma for the fluffy orange socks.

In short, we all want our children to have a fun and happy holiday—but deep down, we know that we’re spoiling them with every latest gadget and gizmo in the toy catalog.  There’s hope: you can create a merrier balance between presents and the deeper meaning of the holidays with the ideas below.

Read Amy McCready's Q&A session on the TODAY Moms Facebook page.

1. Give Santa a backseat
Yes, ‘tis the season for presents, but it’s also a prime time for teaching our kids that what we give to others is every bit as important as the boxes under the tree for us. Yet one in five parents says they don’t volunteer or make charitable donations to demonstrate the joy of giving back. Take the first step and spread holiday cheer by finding a family to sponsor, and then let your children help choose the gifts for the family. Or, encourage them to donate their time to make holiday cards, help relatives around the house or serve hot meals to those in need.

We can also use the season to teach our children about the reason for the festivities.  What does the holiday celebrate, what does it mean to your faith, and where do gifts fit in? While the latest popular toy – the robot puppy that doubles as a kid’s digital camera – is pretty cool, how does it mesh with your family’s faith and values?

2. Govern the gift list – without being a Scrooge.
No matter how much you focus on giving gifts this year, your kids are still busy scribbling their own never-ending wish list. And our TODAY Moms/Parenting.com survey shows that 76 percent of parents feel guilty for saying no to something on the list. Put an end to out-of-control requests, and the guilt, by asking kids to force rank the gifts they’d like most.  Then set appropriate limits for dollar amounts or the number of gifts your child will receive (for Hanukkah, for instance, allow one gift per night).  Be sure to involve the rest of the family with your plan.  While it might be tricky convincing Grandma and Grandpa not to go overboard again this year, if the whole family is in on it, they might be more likely to follow suit. Remember that the more gifts your kids receive, the less special each one becomes.

3. Turn on holiday lights, turn off the TV
It’s no coincidence that the TV advertisements for the new “top-secret spy toy car” start up during your kids’ favorite after-school show—and it’s something we can’t control. But we can manage how much time our kids spend watching those ads, and in so doing, keep the focus on celebrating the holiday’s meaning and giving to others.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests a few tips to limit exposure to TV commercials, especially for younger kids: stick with public television stations, tape their favorite programs without the commercials, and buy or rent children’s movies or DVDs.

4. Give thanks—and thank-you notes
Ever pay top dollar for a gift, only to have your generosity forgotten as fast as the wrapping paper is removed? It might be time to work on encouraging gratitude. One in every four parents don’t require their kids to send a thank-you note.—and even face to face, kids may need help learning how to express their thanks. Take time before the holidays to role play how to graciously receive a present or act of kindness, and focus on the thought or effort behind the gift. For instance, your daughter might say, “That was so nice of you to give me a purple scarf, since it’s my favorite color!”

5. Unspoil throughout the year
Limiting the presents and “freebies” received throughout the year will also help cut back on a sense of entitlement and inspire gratitude, as kids who have everything don’t appreciate gifts as much. A good rule of thumb is stick to gift giving only on holidays and birthdays, and then implement an allowance after age 4 to let your children buy their own toys (or designer jeans) and help teach financial responsibility.

By focusing on the holiday, managing gift expectations, controlling advertising and generating gratitude with our kids, we teach our children the real reason for the celebrations and about the joy of giving.  And that’s bound to keep your holiday happy, and your new year merry and bright!

Amy McCready is the founder of Positive Parenting Solutions and the author of If I Have to Tell You One More Time…The Revolutionary Program That Gets Your Kids to Listen Without Nagging, Reminding or Yelling. For easy to implement strategies for happier families and well-behaved kids, follow Positive Parenting Solutions on Facebook.