Children are an absolute gift! As parents, we want the best for our children in all aspects of their lives. After all, their happiness means the world. However, this is the time of year when parents begin to hear more and more about the things their children want as the holiday lists roll in. It seems like they’re adding something new every day, or changing their minds at the last minute, which is no surprise in this overstimulated world.
For parents, it’s important to manage expectations, especially during this time of year. Luckily, there are strategic ways to manage your children’s holiday gift expectations, and it doesn’t have to end in disappointment.
Explain How to Prioritize and Deal With Disappointment
This is where you have the opportunity to address your children’s “gimme“ mentality. When kids make their long list of gifts, they certainly aren’t considering whether or not you can afford everything they want. Of course, children don’t really even understand the value of money, so that’s a lost point.
A better approach is to teach them about prioritizing their list. It’s a great lesson to learn early on that we can’t always have everything we want in life. Work with them to identify the one or two items that mean the most to them on the list (and fit within your gift budget).
Sit down with them to discuss every item on the list, and find out their motivation for selecting the items they did. Also, let them know why you can’t get the rest of the items on the list. This will teach them not to feel sad or disappointed whenever you say no, because they'll know there’s a logical reason behind your decision and that you’re not just trying to deprive them.
This strategy can help develop critical thinking habits in your children that will be beneficial to them for the rest of their lives.
Teach the Importance of Generosity and Empathy
It’s the time of year to remind children that gifts are meant to be given as well as received. It’s the perfect time to talk about the benefits of helping others. This also helps shift the focus of your child from getting what they want to giving in ways that can’t be monetized.
There are a lot of different ways you can help your kids attain an age-appropriate level of self-sacrifice. Try taking them shopping to choose gifts for friends, family, or a charity. Better yet, encourage them to give away their toys from the previous year to a kid-focused charity or toy drive. You can also take them along to buy food and personal care items for people in homeless shelters as a way to demonstrate wants versus needs.
Focus on the Magic of the Season (the Big Picture)
No matter what you’re celebrating this holiday season, your kids will undoubtedly be very happy when they see their gifts. But those gifts are soon quickly forgotten, sometimes even before the next holiday. The truth is that gifts are wonderful, but there’s more joy to be gained when you look at the bigger picture.
Remember, memories last longer than gifts. Try to be creative and give experiences instead of toys. Challenge yourself to get into the holiday spirit in unique ways that won’t break the bank. Bake some cookies, make a gingerbread house, or volunteer your time together as a family. There are no limits to what you can add to your family’s holiday tradition.
Start conversations now before the holidays are in full swing so you can manage expectations and teach a few valuable lessons along the way. Remember to be patient, especially if your children are used to getting what they want. Generosity, gratitude, and prioritizing are all complex concepts for children. Keep exposing them to situations where they can do good for others even if it means not getting everything they want.
Vinay Saranga M.D. is a child and adolescent psychiatrist and founder of Saranga Comprehensive Psychiatry.