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Should Your Child’s Behavior Dictate His Holiday Gifts?

(If you are a “parental push-over”, I am officially warning you right now, there’s a good chance you won’t like what I’m about to say. Now that’s out of the way, let us proceed.)

So, your kid is of the age where he knows the truth behind Santa. Christmas is sneaking up and he’s consistently being disrespectful or refuses to do his chores or is being less that jolly to his little sister. You threaten that if this continues you’re cutting back on his gifts this year. He makes promises, but nothing changes. Should his actions really dictate what he finds under the tree this year?

To answer his question, I think it’s best we backtrack a bit. When your tween terror was a cute second-grader, did you feed him the whole “you better be good or Santa won’t bring you toys” bit like the rest of us parents do/did? If so, did you actually follow through with it? Because, if you said it, you should have (if warranted, of course). If you say there’ll be a consequence for actions, you have to be sure there is, be it something your kid wants or something he doesn’t. It shows him that there’s no middle ground. If you say it, it’s going to happen. He learns that there’s consistency and understands his limits and boundaries.

When my oldest daughter was three (she’s sixteen now) she was doing something she shouldn’t have been doing (I can’t even recall what it was) on the eve of Easter Sunday. I told her, “Riley, if you keep this up the Easter Bunny won’t hide eggs for you when you go to bed.” My daughter basically snubbed me and went back to her little wicked ways. She goes to bed and my wife says we need to hide her eggs and set up her Easter Basket.

It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done as a parent, but I told my wife that we had to stand strong and support the Easter bunny. So, when Riley awoke the next morning, she was surprised to find an Easter basket filled only with a note from the big bunny explaining that her behavior didn’t jibe with the kinds of behaviors rabbits leave eggs for…But, if she could pull it together by the time she woke from her morning nap, he’d consider swinging by while she snoozed.

Riley’s behavior was excellent. We went to an Easter service at our local church and someone was dressed in a bunny costume. Riley ran to the giant rodent and asked, “Am I being good? Am I being good?!”

This unsuspecting costume-clad adult had no idea what my preschooler was talking about. So, he did the only thing he could. He nodded.

Riley screamed with glee and went straight to sleep after church only to find a full basket and gift-filled plastic eggs strewn about our backyard. The point is, from then on Riley always took it very seriously when I told her that The Easter Bunny, Santa, or even The Tooth Fairy was calling some of the shots. Funny thing is, when I would tell her if she didn’t change this or that in our home she wouldn’t be able to get something or go somewhere, she took it as gospel. If the Easter Bunny followed through, good chance Mom and Dad probably would, too.

It’s not so horrible, though. I’ve been on the receiving end. I remember one year Santa left me a small amount of coal in my stocking and a note telling me he kept one gift back at the North Pole that he wanted to give to me. Did my folks really give me one gift less? I don’t know, but that left quite an impression on me. I never got coal again, and I’ve kept that black little nugget to this day as a reminder to be nice, not naughty.

So, just because Junior now knows that Mom and Dad are behind the gifts under the tree doesn’t mean that the rules have changed. If Santa was holding back gifts due to behavior, so can you. Warn your child hat you will be returning (or not even buying) gifts if their unacceptable behavior continues. Then, if there’s no change, follow through.

I’ll be honest; it’s not easy. As parents we want so badly to see our children happy when they get the gifts they want, but more important than those moments of happiness on Christmas morning is learning life lessons, and realizing Mom and dad stand by what they say.

That means feel free to let them know that you’d planned to gift them more, but their behavior prevented it. This happened a couple of times with our two daughters, but we’d actually already purchased the gifts, so we just saved them and the girls received the gifts for Valentine’s Day or their birthdays. We never actually returned their gifts, but they never knew.

It’s important to be parents all year round, even during the holidays. It will make life easier for you for years to come, and your child will learn a valuable life lesson, that not only won’t Mom and dad bend the rules for them, but that’s not how the world works. They will thank you for this lesson one day…it’s the spirit of the holidays…kinda.

Leon Scott Baxter's picture
America’s Relationship Guru

Leon Scott Baxter, “America’s Relationship Guru,” is the author of Secrets of Safety-Net Parenting and the founder of He’s the father of two girls, 12 and 16, and has taught elementary school for eighteen years.