PhotoThose gifts under the tree can be leverage to get the most from your children in terms of good behavior this time of year. A new study, however, urges parents to avoid this temptation. You may be doing more harm then good.

It's a quick fix for you as a parent to get what you need, which is cooperation or chores done, but it may be harming your child in the long run.

A study was done at the University of Missouri. They gathered 700 adults and asked them  questions about their childhood circumstances,their relationships with parents and what types of punishments they received.

What the researchers concluded is that three  types of parenting strategies lead to increased materialism:

1) Using gifts as a reward when children have accomplished something, such as good grades or making a team;
2) Giving gifts as a way of showing affection; and
3) Taking away gifts or favourite toys as a way to punish children.

What's so bad?

What's so bad about materialism? Empires are built on people who have a keen focus on making money. Marsha Richins, one of the researchers who is a professor of marketing at the University of Missouri, explains why this is damaging:

“Our research suggests that children who receive many material rewards from their parents will likely continue rewarding themselves with material goods when they are grown – well into adulthood – and this could be problematic.”

Kids who are raised like this develop the attitude as "the one with the most toys wins." I am sure you have seen the bumper sticker. What happens is they end up thinking that success in life is defined by the quality and number of material goods acquired, and that acquiring material objects will make them more attractive. 

There is an increased risk for adults who have this belief system to have a higher risk of marital problems, to have addictions like gambling and to run into financial issues. All of this translates into poor self-esteem. 

Earlier studies

This recent study coincides with other research that was collected. A long-term study was published in the November 2003 issue of Psychological Science  it linked data that was collected 19 years apart on 12,000 people who had attended elite colleges and universities in the 1970s -- one drawn in 1976 when they were freshmen, the other in 1995.

On average, those who had initially expressed stronger financial aspirations reported lower life satisfaction two decades later than those expressing lower monetary desires. But as the income of the higher-aspiration participants rose, so did their reported life satisfaction, the team found.

Then there's price you pay for learning to be grateful. A 2003 study at the University of California at Davis showed that grateful people report higher levels of happiness and optimism -- along with lower levels of depression and stress. To keep your children emotionally healthy give them the gift of teaching them to be grateful. Their most important teacher will be you. 

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