What can we do to make sure kids stay grateful when their wish lists go beyond the GDP of a tiny developing nation?

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‘Twas the week before Christmas and there were …visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads? Yeah, right. We all know that’s so 1823.

It’s far more likely that kids waiting for the big day have visions of XBoxes, BB-8 app-enabled droids and expensively dressed American Girl dolls etched onto their retinas. And they often have big long lists for Santa, too.

What can parents do to make sure their kids’ understandable lust for toys is not crossing the line into greed? What can we do to make sure kids stay grateful when their wish lists go beyond the GDP of a tiny developing nation?

Christmas is meant to be a time of giving, but it can become a time of “Gimme!” But there may be an antidote.

“They have all these interests and there isn’t any structure unless a parent or family gives  a little bit of a structure,” says Mara Mulcahy, a parent educator at North Seattle College.

She suggests that parents could encourage their kids to write down everything they’ve ever wanted, but points out that some kids will write down two things — whereas others might want 50 or more.

“I think it’s really family-driven with what you’re going to encourage,” sayd Mulcahy. “If they hand you a list that’s out of control, just setting some expectations” from parents helps, she said.

With limits, kids should be able to get a better idea of what’s a reasonable wish list and what isn’t.

When children do hand over lists that are either way too extravagant — $400 Meccanoid robots, anyone? — or too packed with items, it isn’t a sign of being spoiled, she said.

“It really just usually is their development. They’re just not quite there. Everything’s just not linked up,” she said, noting that this doesn’t mean you just brought a greedy little monster into the world. It’s a normal thing. “They’re just not sure yet how the world works.”

One activity that can put children on the right track and get them thinking of others this time of year is to encourage them to help you with gifts for other kids. But the parent educator does not recommend going into a big, loud store to get their help picking the gift, to avoid kids getting overstimulated and melting down. Buying for someone else can be “too abstract” for little ones, she said,

“A recipe for success might be making a list together — about something that you might then go purchase for somebody else,” she said.

“And then maybe they make the card. Or maybe they help you deliver it.”

Parents can also show the kids how to be generous by bringing kids on a trip for a gift for a grownup, which kids will find “a lot less threatening,” said Mulcahy, all while they start getting the idea that giving to other people is fun.

Kids can help by making cards or helping with wrapping.

Other ideas could be getting kids’ input on donations to a charity that has high interest for kids, like Heifer International, or projects involving donating items at school to help the homeless or other people in need.

“They get to see that you’re thinking about it. They get to have some input,” said Mulcahy.

“I think it’s just about celebrating when they are kind or generous.”