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Yes, we spoil our kids: 6,000 moms come clean

Most parents are torn between two conflicting impulses during the holidays.
/ Source: TODAY

Most parents are torn between two conflicting impulses during the holidays. We want to make the holidays magical for our children and give them everything their little hearts desire.

But, we don’t want them to get spoiled.

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It’s a tough line, and in the safety of an anonymous survey, most of us admit we go overboard. Our TODAY Moms and online survey of 6,000 parents found that three-quarters of us think our children are a little or a lot spoiled. Almost 60 percent of us think our children are more spoiled than we were as kids. (“When I was your age, I would get socks for Christmas, and I liked it! Then I would walk to school uphill both ways in the snow.”)

Who’s to blame? Sometimes we can point the finger at grandparents and other relatives who turn every holiday into a spending spree.

More from Are your children spoiled?

But more often, we know exactly who the spoiler is – us. Moms reported they plan to spend an average of $271 per child this holiday, with one in 10 saying they’ll shell out upwards of $500 on gifts for each child. Despite the struggling economy, only 1 in 4 moms say they plan to spend less on presents this year.

“I have spoiled my children. I have always been under the belief that if I don’t give them everything, no one will,” one mom confessed in our survey. But, she’s trying to fix things: “I have started to change that mentality. I have asked them to start working for their gifts. The funny thing is, they don’t mind at all.”

Click here to read more spoiled-kid confessions from our survey

Of course, parents are caught in a guilt trap. If they give their children too much, they feel bad for spoiling them. But if, like many families this year, they can't afford to buy what they want for your kids -- well, that feels even worse. Three-quarters of moms say they feel guilty saying no to things on their children's wish lists.

"I am a single mom who just tells my son I will do what I can, and if I can get what he wants then I try my best," one mom wrote. "But he knows the true meaning of Christmas, and being with family is the most important thing to us.'

Even parents who can't afford it will often try to splurge at the holidays. One mom wrote of a disastrous Christmas: “I spent about $1,000 on two kids and wasn’t working at the time. On Christmas morning they opened them as fast as possible. They had at least 20 items apiece and they actually said, ‘Is that all?’ I was hurt and actually cried and cut back the next year (some).”

As for teaching the true holiday spirit, 70 percent say they donate to charity – but 20 percent say they don’t do much of anything to teach kids to give back. And one-quarter of moms say they never make their kids write thank-you notes.

We do have some standards, though. If a kid pitches a fit when Grandma gives him socks instead of a Wii, 98 percent of parents say they’ll take some corrective action, whether it’s making the child apologize (68 percent), reprimanding the child (19 percent), or giving them a talking-to later (8 percent).

When it comes to keeping kids in line, the best strategy, of course, is to model gratitude and good manners. But if that fails, there’s always the good old “Santa’s watching” threat – 57 percent of parents say they use this one.

How do you raise grateful kids? And if you fear your kids are already spoiled, how to you reverse the damage? Join TODAY Moms contributor and parenting expert Amy McCready, author of “If I Have To Tell You One More Time…,” for a chat on the TODAY Moms Facebook page at 1 p.m. ET on Tuesday.

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Full Survey Results: TODAY Moms and's online, non-scientific survey of 6,000 moms

Do you think your kids are spoiled during the holidays?

  • Yes. Our gift-giving has gotten out of control. 19.9%
  • A little. We could definitely cut back. 56.2%
  • No. We set limits and stick to them. 23.9%

Do you ever feel guilty for saying no to something on your child’s wish list?

  • Never. We’re the parents spending the money, and they need to accept that. 24.1%
  • A little, but we openly discuss why some gifts aren’t possible. 57.7%
  • Yes. As parents we want to be able to give them everything. 18.2%

Compare how spoiled your kids are to how spoiled you were at their age. Are they:

  • More spoiled. 59.0%
  • Less spoiled. 10.8%
  • About the same. 30.2%

What do you do to teach kids the importance of giving back during the holiday season?

  • Volunteer as a family. 16.3%
  • Donate gifts and/or money to those less fortunate. 70.2%
  • Other. 16.5%
  • Not much. 21.2%

Do you require your kids to send thank-you notes?

  • Always. 30.7%
  • Sometimes. 41.7%
  • Never. 27.6%

Your child pitches a fit when Grandma gives him an unwanted gift. How do you handle this situation?

  • Immediately apologize on your child’s behalf. 3.5%
  • Make your child apologize for his behavior. 67.8%
  • Reprimand/discipline the child. 19.2%
  • Nothing in the moment, but we’ll sure be talking about it later. 7.6%
  • Laugh it off…kids will be kids. 1.8%

Do you bribe kids into good behavior with the “Santa’s watching…” threat?

  • Yes. 57.1%
  • No. 32.5%
  • Not applicable. 10.3%

Do your kids spend their own money on gifts?

  • Yes. 36.3%
  • No. 22.5%
  • No, but only because they’re too young to have their own money. 41.2%

Your child is begging you for this year’s “must-have” (but impossible to get) gift. What is the most extreme measure you’ll take in order to get it?

  • Stop by the store a few times and hope it’s in stock. 43.9%
  • Visit multiple stores until I track it down. 27.9%
  • Wrestle it away from another parent in the toy aisle. 0.5%
  • Wait on abnormally long lines. 12.6%
  • Research online until I find it. 50.0%
  • Pay a premium to get it. 7.2%
  • All of the above - whatever it takes. 3.8%
  • None of the above. 17.7%

How do you keep holiday spending under control?

  • Setting and sticking to a strict budget. 38.6%
  • Bargain shopping at outlet stores, using coupons, etc. 49.7%
  • Only buying gifts for the kids. 28.5%
  • Gift exchanges like Yankee Swaps and Secret Santa. 7.7%
  • Set strict limits on the number of gifts given per person, regardless of age. 16.2%
  • We don’t! This isn’t the time of year to hold back. 11.2%

Do you feel pressure to keep up with other families this time of year?

  • Absolutely. 7.9%
  • Sometimes. 38.7%
  • Never. 53.4%

Approximately how much will you spend per child this year?

  • Under $25. 1.3%
  • $25 to 50. 4.2%
  • $51 to $100. 13.4%
  • $101 to $200. 26.7%
  • $201 to $300. 24.2%
  • $301 to $400. 12.4%
  • $401 to $500. 7.8%
  • $501 to $1,000. 7.2%
  • More than $1,000. 2.6%
  • Mean: $271

How will your holiday spending compare to last year’s?

  • We’ll spend less. 25.9%
  • We’ll spend about the same. 66.1%
  • We’ll spend more. 8.0%

Do you have a friend or family member who spoils your kid too much?

  • Yes. 49.8%
  • No. 50.2%

Have you ever asked anyone to scale back the number of gifts given to your kid?

  • Yes. 54.8%
  • No. 45.2%