The holiday season is magical, but often tainted with so many consumeristic messages that the season can quickly morph into the “season of gimme’s.” When the kids were younger, the “I want’s” typically started at my house before Halloween, with the boys hollering at me every time they saw something on TV they wanted, which was after almost every toy commercial. Now that we don’t have cable, it takes longer for the gimmes to start, but they do still come. 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 budgetary reasons or a desire to live a less cluttered lifestyle, parents everywhere are looking for ways to cut back.
Without spoiling the fun and fantasy of the holidays, how can parents reasonably manage kids’ expectations? Here are a few ideas to help.
1. Good Communication-simple holidays
Good communication between parents and children is key. Using opportunities daily to teach your values to your children can preserve the excitement of the holidays while maintaining realistic expectations. If your children know you don’t approve of violent video games, they 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 Daddy and I make decisions we feel are right for our family. While our answer on X is no, we enjoy saying yes to other things we know you’re wishing for.”
2. Disappointment-simple holidays
Children need to learn how to make choices, prioritize and deal with disappointment. Those are essential life skills. Consistently giving in to a kid’s gimme attitude can morph into selfishness and a sense of entitlement. In the media, kids are constantly told that they can have anything and everything they want. It’s your job as a parent to clue them into reality. Encourage your 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 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.”
3. Set Limits-simple holidays
Set limits up front about what kids can expect on Christmas morning. I love the idea behind the “want/need/wear/read” idea — 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 canset the expectation of what they’ll get from you.
Emphasize gratitude-simple holidays
Emphasize gratitude. 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 kids who don’t have anything.
Highlight the rewards of giving. Nothing lifts a child’s spirits 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, and I’m particularly proud of my boys when they’re able to shop for each other while actually putting their brother’s desires before their own. 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. Each year we “adopt” a couple of kids from the Angel Tree, and I make sure to include our boys in helping pick out gifts for the angels. To help the boys relate, I try to pick out kids that are close to their own ages, so they can better visualize what kinds of gifts would best bless the recipients.
Wish list-simple holidays
Make a “family wish 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.
Focus on the “magic” of the season — which does not 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 — this is how memories are made. 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. We enjoy going to candlelight Christmas Eve church services and making homemade cookies to leave for Santa (Santa loves snickerdoodles!) On Christmas Day, we bake and decorate a “birthday cake for Jesus” to enjoy after the holiday dinner — the boys love decorating the cake however they want and singing Happy Birthday at the top of their lungs. These are the things they remember and talk about year after year — not the toys that were under the tree.
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