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Why This Christmas Gift Hack Made My Heart Break

Why This Christmas Gift Hack Made My Heart Break

When it comes to getting children to behave, threatening them or using external rewards doesn’t work.

I was heartbroken when I first heard about the latest Christmas meme going viral that involves burning fake presents in the fireplace when children misbehave. Not only is this method of parenting ineffective in the long run (and usually ineffective in the short run too), but he agony these children must be feeling watching their presents burn is almost too unbearable to think about.

It made me think about the overall goals of parenting and what we want for our children. Do you want a child that behaves the way you want them to just because they are getting a present? Or stop their misbehavior only because they are worried about you burning a present? What happens after Christmas when presents can’t be used as bribes?

I prefer to take an inside out approach to parenting- providing positive experiences for children to develop internal integration and regulation. The goal is to raise children that choose to behave and do the moral thing because they know it is right and it feels good- not because they are getting an external reward. The problem with external rewards is that you have to keep giving them to get the same results. This can sometimes prevent children from developing the social and emotional regulation to make good decisions and control their impulses based on their own internal cues.

Threatening to burn presents also doesn’t work because children can’t always control their behavior. They are going to act out and misbehave sometimes- that’s just how their little bodies and brains are made. They do not have access to the higher functioning parts of their brain that allow them to tap the brakes and control impulses or wait for delayed gratification. They need their parents to help them with this piece of regulation and impulse control. Expecting them to be regulated and in control of their behavior all of the time is setting your child up to fail.

The best way to get your child to behave around the holidays, or anytime, is to continually provide them with positive experiences of being attuned and connected to you (the parent). The more they feel securely connected to you and validated by you, the more open they will be to redirection from you when they misbehave or need help becoming regulated again. Help them develop their internal coping skills by validating their experience and feelings, and then walking them through the best possible choices.

This way, you end up with children that are becoming more integrated and regulated and are able to make better decisions regarding their behavior. It sure beats burned presents and ashes with a bigger mess to clean up come January.

Laura McLaughlin is the Founder and Therapist at HeadFirst Counseling in Dallas, TX. Laura works with children, teens, and parents to foster secure attachments and create an environment for families to thrive. Read more about Laura and HeadFirst Counseling at

Laura can be reached by contacting the HeadFirst Office at (469) 665-9416 or

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