Managing your child’s holiday gift expectations may seem challenging this time of year, but when you set expectations early on – and stick to them – you can enjoy a happy season without the begging or disappointment.
All around us, kids are encouraged to reveal their wishes of candy, gingerbread cookies, and overstuffed stockings next to shiny new bikes, game systems, toys-of-the-year… complete with giant bows on top.
Whether for budget or a desire to live a less cluttered lifestyle, many parents are looking for ways to cut back. We all want to make our kids happy, but the winter holidays can easily get out of control. Here’s how you can reasonably manage their lists this year without spoiling the fun of the holidays.
HOW TO MANAGE YOUR CHILD’S HOLIDAY GIFT EXPECTATIONS
So, how do you keep your kid from begging for toys or comparing what they get with someone else? Here are some strategies that should fit right in line with the gentle discipline approach you always take with your child.
COMMUNICATE WITH YOUR CHILD THE SAME AS YOU DO ALL YEAR LONG
Using opportunities daily to teach your values to your children can preserve the excitement of the holidays while keeping realistic expectations. If you consistently implement logical consequences, and your child knows you don’t approve of violent video games, he won’t be surprised when Santa doesn’t bring one.
Be firm and honest with your reasons for not following along with the crowd: “John’s parents make decisions they feel are right for their family, and your dad and I make decisions we feel are right for our family. While our answer on X is no, we do enjoy saying yes to other things we know you’re wishing for.”
HELP YOUR CHILD LEARN HOW TO MAKE CHOICES, PRIORITIZE, AND DEAL WITH DISAPPOINTMENT
Green Child’s editor and her husband take their kids to the Orlando theme parks every few years. “Knowing that every ride ends in a gift shop, we wanted a way to head off any fits or whining, so on our first trip we explained that they could each get one special souvenir,” Amity shares. “They would stop to look at toys, and our oldest would say he was considering this for his one gift. They’d see other kids crying or throwing themselves on the floor clutching a Buzz Lightyear or a princess dress. But they just seemed to accept that they got one chance, and they wanted to make the most of it. Those toys always seemed more special – probably because of all the careful consideration that went into them.”
Consistently giving in to a child’s gimme attitude can morph into selfishness and a sense of entitlement. Children hear they can have anything and everything they want. It’s your job as a parent to clue them into reality. Encourage children to prioritize their wish lists.
When they bring you that long list, ask them to choose the top one or two things they really want. If Santa stops at your house, explain to younger children that Santa likes to focus on the gifts they want the most (he DOES have a lot of kids to please, after all!) But don’t ignore the rest of the list. Discuss each item to find out the why’s behind the wishes — understanding why a child wants something can help you find out their true desires, and it’s often not about the stuff.
HELP YOUR CHILD KNOW WHAT TO EXPECT ON CHRISTMAS MORNING
Just like Amity’s kids having a clear understanding of what to expect on their vacation, you can do the same for Christmas morning. When it comes to setting holiday gift expectations, consider the Want-Need-Wear-Read approach — each kid gets one thing they want, one thing they need, something to wear and something to read. While you can’t control what other people give your kids, you can set the expectation of what they’ll get from you.
Or make a family wish list. Create a list together, and be sure to include non-material wishes—such as taking a walk in the snow or drinking hot cocoa by the fire. These wishes can be granted through “coupons” when it comes time to open gifts, or woven into the weeks surrounding the holidays to extend the celebration beyond one “special” day
Even when children are disappointed, it’s important for them to learn how to be gracious recipients. Expressing gratitude so others’ feelings don’t get hurt is a must-have skill, and it goes beyond the pouty-faced “thank you.” Teaching kids to be genuinely gracious and thankful for all they have can go a long way to helping them understand the concept of “enough,” particularly when there are so many people who don’t have anything.
HIGHLIGHT THE REWARDS OF GIVING
Nothing lifts a child’s disappointment more quickly than giving a heartfelt gift to someone else. Shifting the emphasis from receiving to giving helps children see the exchange of presents from a different perspective. Kids love picking out gifts for other people. In addition to helping kids thoughtfully choose gifts for friends and family, choose a charity, toy drive, food pantry or other group and lend a hand.
FOCUS ON THE MAGIC OF THE SEASON
The real magic doesn’t come from lots of toys. Get past the gift grab by making new holiday traditions. Make time for listening to seasonal music, baking treats, making decorations or crafting simple gifts for friends and family. It doesn’t just save money—it makes memories.
Focus on activities you can do together as a family, instead of focusing on what gets unwrapped Christmas morning. You’re free to create any tradition you want, so be creative. It could include a walk on Christmas morning, attending a special concert or a lazy day at home. These are the things they remember and talk about year after year — not the toys they found under the tree.