Giving your children some long-awaited gifts is a joy for many parents this time of year. But families may run into issues when expectations don't line up with reality. "This time of year is a perennial challenge for parents with little ones," says child development and parenting expert Denise Daniels. "There's all this marketing and advertising, so the pressure is enormous."
It's tough to keep up with the Joneses when there's always a mom or dad willing to spend more than you, or you just may not be interested in having a toy-filled, candy-fueled holiday. Even if you do decide to go big on gifts, though, your kids may take their good fortune for granted. What's a parent (who doesn't want to be called a Scrooge) to do? Here, Daniels helps us navigate four likely scenarios to keep present problems in check.
Manage the Backlash: If you know your kid has high hopes for poaching a popular present—a Hatchimal, for instance—and it's not going to be under the tree, it's up to you to prepare him or her for that reality. "We want to make our kids happy," Daniels says. "But [some] parents either can't afford to...or they choose not to buy just anything from a values standpoint." So plan to have a conversation about that early on with your little one. If you wait until it's too late, their disappointment can be crushing, Daniels says. Start the conversation by saying, "I understand this toy is something that you really want," so you're validating their feelings. Then explain that it's not possible for the toy to be part of the holiday this year, but perhaps it's something they can put on their birthday wish list. "[This] teaches delayed gratification. It's a life skill," Daniels adds, while noting that you should then talk about the fun ways you'll spend the holidays. Because, chances are, your kids just want time with you.
Manage the Backlash: The best way to address seemingly thankless behavior is to sit down next to your child and ask him or her to dictate a thank-you note, Daniels says. It helps him show his gratitude and gets to the heart of the matter. For younger children, they can simply draw a picture of the gift, or you can even take a photograph of your child with the gift and caption it together.
Manage the backlash: In an ideal scenario, parents will preemptively send a note to well-meaning relatives asking that gifts be kept to a minimum number or a certain level of age-appropriateness, Daniels says. You can even send a list of pre-approved gifts if you think they'll be receptive. If a doting grandparent still shows up with a smartphone, or an excited uncle walks in with a mountain of gifts, accept their generosity. Then say that you'll stow away the item(s) until a later date, Daniels suggests. When the time is right, have your child open the gift over a Skype session or take a photo to send to the gift-giver.
Manage the Backlash: Kids are intuitive and perceptive and they learn by watching, Daniels says, so be a role model by always saying "please" and "thank you." But if toys are quickly tossed aside after opening them, gather together as a family and do something that doesn't require spending money. Go for a wintry walk, take a sled to a nearby hill, or curl up on the couch and play a board game or watch a movie. Next year, give your son or daughter some money to buy a toy for a similarly aged child in need. Or ask him or her to choose a charity to make a donation as a family, Daniels suggests. Then visit the organization to drop off your contribution so you can see all the hard work that goes into making the holidays special for everyone.