You can't even take your kid to get socks or lightbulbs without him whining for you to buy him something -- seemingly anything.
In-The-Moment Fix Before you go on any shopping trip, inform your child that you'll be hitting the mall to, say, buy gifts for his cousins. "Engage him in the process," says Lerner. "Ask him what his cousin Jane likes and which toy you should get her. Get him excited about buying for someone else." At the same time, make it clear that you won't be able to buy anything for him. Then, if your son throws a fit at the store, you can refer back to that conversation, and say something like "I know it's hard to be here when you're not getting anything, but that's the rule. Now, I really need your help finding something for Jane." Let's be honest: That might not be enough to stop his whining. But steel yourself and stay strong. Caving in will only teach him that he will eventually get his way if he complains loud or long enough.
Long-Term Strategy Your weekends may be errand time, but try to avoid spending all your family moments pushing a shopping cart. That way, your kids won't think acquiring stuff is the leisure-time norm. (Don't get us wrong, though: We know those flattering jeans are sometimes an absolute necessity!) Denver mom Beth Korin says she and her two boys, ages 7 and 9, frequently head to the library, an indoor pool, or a rock-climbing gym instead. "We try to think of things we can do that don't involve hanging out in stores," she says. Prepare kids for these events the same way you would for gifts ("We're going to have a big, delicious meal with all of your favorite foods, and then we're going to play games!"). The idea you want to get across is that having experiences can be just as exciting as accumulating things (if not more).
Your 6-year-old gobbles down the Teddy Grahams that another parent at the playground gives him. But when you prod him to say "Thank you," he won't.
In-The-Moment Fix It's easy to turn this "teachable moment" into a battle of wills -- one where you're repeating "I didn't hear you say thank you!" to your tantrum-ing child while the person he's supposed to thank is backing away in discomfort. But, explains Lerner, the fact that your son doesn't always say the words likely just means they haven't become a habit for him yet. "And getting into power struggles actually impedes the process," she says. So while you should definitely remind your kids to give thanks, it's best not to make a big deal about it if it doesn't happen.
Long-Term Strategy Remind yourself to model grateful behavior. When your cookie-muncher goes silent, go ahead and say the necessary "Thank you so much!" for him. (At least until he gets older and can be counted on to follow your cues.) In your own everyday interactions, always offer warm thank-yous and praise to grocery store clerks, gas-station attendants, waiters, teachers -- anyone who's helpful to you or him. You may think your child isn't paying attention to those small moments, but he actually is.
When you say no to a DS that, according to your daughter, "everyone at school" has, she complains that all her BFFs get cooler stuff than she does.
In-The-Moment Fix Sympathize with her frustration, but remind your daughter that, actually, many people don't have as much as she does. How? Begin a tradition of charity work and donating. Start simple: As young as age 3, children can be encouraged to go through their belongings and pick out items to donate, says Lerner. Every year after that, they can get more involved. Last year, Gabrielle Melchionda of Yarmouth, ME, and her two sons, ages 5 and 9, volunteered to decorate low-income homes for Christmas. "It was so nice to see all of the kids, mine and those who lived there, on their bellies coloring together," she says. "Later, my kids asked things like 'Was that the whole house?' It sparked conversation for months. It was an experience none of us will forget."
Long-Term Strategy Expose your daughter to people from all walks of life. "We often try to shield our children from those who are less fortunate, but it's important that kids know how lucky they are," says Dale McGowan, a father of three in Atlanta and coauthor of Parenting Beyond Belief. So the next time you see a homeless person, pass a shelter, or read a story in the news about a needy family, he suggests, ask questions -- "Where do you think that man sleeps?" or "Can you imagine what it would be like not to have a home?" -- that get your kids to put themselves in someone else's shoes. (At the same time, assure them that your family will always have a place to call home.) You'll be surprised -- and pleased -- at how often kids are moved to want to help.
Bonus mom advice: Don't diss gifts yourself as long as your little one is around. In fact, make a point of talking about the redeeming qualities of even that hideous necklace from your mother-in-law--how shiny! "You have to model gratitude if you want your child to practice it, too," points out Janette B. Benson, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at the University of Denver.
Patty Onderko is a Parenting contributing editor.