Studio 5 Contributor and Clinical Psychologist Dr. Liz Hale shares how to help kids handle holiday disappointment.
There are so many expectations leading up to this one specific event. And even though the true meaning of Christmas is NOT in the gifts, it still all comes down to what’s wrapped up under that tree for our little ones.
There is the Big Buildup: What’s that one question we ask little children from Halloween until the 25th of December — “What do you want for Christmas?”
We create all this enormous momentum for one small moment in time. It’s difficult for any of us to get all that holiday anticipation resolved in just one Christmas morning. Here we are less than a week before Christmas and it will feel like time is moving faster and faster. And with that often comes the compulsion to buy more and more!
Focus on Fun & Skimp on Stuff
Be willing to have “more fun and less stuff” this holiday season. Make a commitment as parents and a family to take Christmas giving down a notch or two and focus on the time you spend together. Notice what you emphasize! The more parents give, the more children expect. Study after study proves that, when it comes down to it, what kids really want is less stuff and more quality and quantity time with their parents, and family in general.
It’s tempting as a parent to want to see the joy in your child’s eyes after receiving everything they’ve been talking about for months, that you overindulge the credit card. But we really don’t do children any favors.
The consequence of that splurge is a stressed-out parent in January when the bills come in. Here’s another warning: If that one momentous morning is chaotic, when children rip through their gifts and don’t even know who gave them what, it leaves both kids and parents feeling greatly disappointed.
Even kids who get everything they wished for on Christmas morning are feeling down by Christmas afternoon because things never make us happy. Getting, being, and staying happy is an inside job of the heart.
Create Experiences Not Expenses
Take the family outside and make a snowman or take a walk, or, stay warm inside and play a board game, but sometime during the day get on the floor and PLAY with your kids with the toys they did receive. Never underestimate the power of showing up! Set limitations for your family even if you can afford more. When parents over-spend or cave in on gifts they feel are inappropriate, it teaches children that mom and dad will compromise their family values to avoid upsetting them. That is frightening power for your children to have and is not the example you want to model for them.
Parents need to realize saying “No” is an appropriate parental position. There is no need to feel guilty about “No,” regardless of how you arrived at it; either through inability, unavailability or unwillingness. Make no apologies for “No.”. We don’t need to make children’s disappointments O.K. Let reality speak for itself; you live in an apartment and you can’t have a dog there, or a horse can’t live in the backyard. Simply acknowledge your child’s feelings. “That’s really disappointing, isn’t it? You really wanted that dog/horse/toy.” When we validate emotions it teaches a child that it’s not wrong to feel disappointed and that you understand those feelings.
Express Empathy Not Excuses
While you’re acknowledging your child’s point-of-view, remain upbeat. “I can see that you’re disappointed that you didn’t get a new basketball from Uncle Mike for Christmas. But, wow, I noticed how snazzy that soccer ball is he gave you. Perhaps the two of you can try it out sometime. Did you know that he was on the soccer team in college?” Teach them that many people are disappointed on Christmas and that a “No” doesn’t mean “Never.” Minor disappointments seldom last forever. Help them dream about one day owning that horse, for instance. And, in order to do so, that means attending college and eventually getting a job where they can afford to care for a horse themselves.
And really, disappointment doesn’t necessarily mean ingratitude. Being sad that they didn’t get the new popular Nintendo Wii doesn’t mean that a child doesn’t appreciate all that they did receive. Shaming kids into gratitude doesn’t work; they will just become angry and defensive and the lesson is lost.
Teach Skills for Strong Emotions
How do you help them with other strong emotions, like frustration? Teach them to take a deep breath, redirect their energy to a walk outside, or lose themselves in a good book. Then, when kids are calm you can discuss the big picture. “It’s easy to be thankful when we get the things we want but the challenge comes in being grateful simply for someone’s thoughtfulness regardless of the content of the package.”
Family Motto: Attitude of Gratitude
No one has to “gift” us anything – but the fact that the gift-giver took the time to think of us and pick out a present deserves gratitude. Teach kids (and yourself) to treat every gift as if it is the one and only perfect gift they’ll receive.
I’m so impressed with a manners class that teaches children this concept. One of the exercises is for the children to practice opening a wrapped box with a treat inside. Then, they open a second box with a plastic spider inside. If the lesson is successfully taught, both reactions show delight and gratitude. “Wow, a gift…for me! How wonderful! Thank you so much!”
What Kids Really Want That Money Can’t Buy: Tips for Parenting in a Commercial World, by Betsy Taylor.
Please click here (www.drlizhale.com) for more information and to add your comments!