Expert Opinion

Navigating the festive season

I don’t want my toddler to be entitled! Is there anything I should do now we are in the festive season that could help this?

During the festive season, it’s easy for children to develop a sense of entitlement, especially with the abundance of gifts and celebrations (I’m convinced it’s getting bigger each year!). As busy parents, it’s important to balance the joy of the season with lessons in gratitude and responsibility.

Firstly, establish clear expectations. Children need to understand the value of what they receive. It’s okay to say ‘no’ and teach them the importance of waiting for special occasions like Christmas for certain toys or gifts. This fosters delayed gratification, a crucial life skill.

Another way to work on this is to encourage your child to contribute to household tasks. Rather than overburdening them, try involving them in age-appropriate activities like setting the table or tidying their room. If your child receives pocket money, you can offer it for extra chores. I love this because it helps in teaching them that rewards are earned, not given.

Toddler years are full of important life lessons, many of which revolve around accidental breakages (I still remember my daughter’s ‘trauma’ at breaking a toy the day after she received it!). But, when this happens, we must resist the urge to replace it immediately so we can teach our toddlers about responsibility and caring for their belongings.

Most importantly, model gratitude yourself. Express your own thankfulness openly and involve your child in writing thank you notes for gifts they receive over the festive season. Participating in charity work as a family can also be a powerful way to show them the importance of giving back and being thankful for what they have.

Remember, parenting is about preparing your child for adulthood, which sometimes means making unpopular decisions. Stay calm, consistent, and firm in your approach. Your child might not always like it, but they will thank you later in life.

Should we get a dog?

I should answer this with a disclaimer that I campaigned for a long time to get a dog in our household – and it transformed me into an absolute pet lover (I am now that person who stops passers-by to pat their dog!). As a psychologist and from a developmental perspective, getting a dog can offer numerous benefits for your family, especially if you have babies or toddlers. However, it’s crucial to consider both the advantages and the responsibilities involved.

Dogs can provide companionship and unconditional love, which are wonderful for a child’s emotional development. Interacting with a pet can teach empathy, compassion, and responsibility. For toddlers, a dog can be a playful companion, encouraging physical activity and outdoor play. The bond between a child and a pet can be deeply enriching. Clinically, we use dogs in therapy where appropriate, and it is amazing to see how a child can adjust their behaviour when they see the impact it might be having on the dog in the room.

On the practical side though, think about the added responsibilities. Dogs require time, attention, and care, including feeding, walking, grooming, and vet visits. As busy parents, it’s important to assess whether you can realistically manage these tasks on top of your current responsibilities. Remember, caring for a dog is a long-term commitment. And their emergencies are often poorly timed. Another disclaimer – my much campaigned dog ended up with a bulging disk at 3 years of age which had a huge impact on the family in terms of managing his recovery and the ongoing lifestyle changes.

While I’d like to consider myself a pet expert, I’m not! But I would suggest that other factors to consider include your living situation (is your home and yard suitable for a dog?), whether any family members have allergies or fears of dogs, whether you can find a breed that’s known for being good with children and to ensure proper introductions and supervision of interactions between your child and the dog.

So – a dog can be a wonderful addition to your family, offering love and valuable life lessons for your children. But, it’s vital to ensure you’re ready for the commitment it entails. Your decision should balance the potential benefits with the practicalities of your family’s lifestyle and needs.

I love going to restaurants but it’s a nightmare with a toddler! What can I do?

It is a tricky decision sometimes – do I want to avoid the cooking and cleaning or do I want to avoid the chaos of taking a toddler out for dinner?! While it can be really hard taking toddlers out at mealtimes, there are a couple of things you can do to promote a bit more success.

Firstly – get the timing right. Go early. This works on several levels – there are generally fewer other diners but also, it is likely the time your toddler normally has dinner. This means that your child won’t be a handful as a result of being hungry, and the environment will be less overwhelming if the restaurant is less busy.

Secondly – remember toddlers get bored quickly and easily. So set yourself up for success and keep the outing short, and with plenty of entertainment to keep your child occupied while you eat. I don’t recommend screen usage at mealtimes, but this is a personal choice. Other options might include sticker books, portable games, preferred toys – anything that you know will capture and hold your child’s attention!

As a parent myself, I know that it can be daunting to get through these situations, but the more you do it, the better you all get at it (including your toddler!). So do persist, there are heaps of benefits to having a child who can successfully manage eating at a restaurant so it is worth pushing through those tricky experiences!

I always get stressed at this time of year about my children not being polite when they’re given gifts. Any tips?

Absolutely, it’s completely understandable to feel a bit stressed about your children’s behaviour during gift-receiving moments, especially when life is already so busy with little ones. It can be pretty embarrassing when your child exclaims “Oh no I’ve already got one of these” or “I hate Barbie! Why are they giving me a Barbie doll mum?”.

However, it’s important to remember that politeness and gratitude are learned behaviours. Younger children are still developing these social skills, so it’s normal for them not to always react as we’d hoped. This is about a learning process and your support is key.

Before any gift-giving occasion, have a casual chat with your children about expectations. Explain why saying ‘thank you’ is important. You can role-play or read stories that emphasise gratitude and good manners.

During the actual gift-receiving, try to keep the atmosphere relaxed. If your child forgets to say ‘thank you’, gently remind them at the moment. It’s okay to prompt them, as this reinforces the behaviour.

Praise is also powerful. When they do remember their manners, a little positive reinforcement goes a long way. Acknowledge this with a smile or a compliment at the moment – and possibly even some more praise afterward.

Also, remember that children often mirror their parents. Model the behaviour you wish to see by expressing your gratitude openly.

Lastly, be patient and keep expectations realistic. Social etiquette is a gradual learning curve, especially for young children. Your calm and consistent guidance will help them develop these important life skills over time.

About the author

Amanda Abel is a paediatric psychologist, mum, and founder of Northern Centre for Child Development (NCCD) and Hawthorn Centre for Child Development (HCCD) – multidisciplinary paediatric practices in Melbourne. Working directly and indirectly with hundreds of clients each year, Amanda’s mission is for every child to achieve their best outcomes by equipping families and educators with the tools they need to help kids thrive.
Amanda draws on her own experiences of being a parent along with her extensive training and well-honed skill set to get families thriving. Having worked with families for almost two decades, as a psychologist for the past 11 years in a variety of settings, and a valued board member of the Autism Behavioural Intervention Association, Amanda loves building the confidence of the adults in the lives of children so that they can connect meaningfully, help them reach their full potential, and live a life that reflects their values.
Often appearing on Channel 7 and 9 News and regularly featuring in print media, Amanda is on a mission to make the world better for kids through her clinical work, consulting to some of the biggest global toy manufacturers and educating the digital media industry about making the internet safer for kids.
Photo by Jonathan Borba