Managing their expectations

Winning smile ... Don't let them charm you into excess this Christmas.
Winning smile ... Don't let them charm you into excess this Christmas. 

From the moment the stores hoist the mistletoe in September right up until bedtime on Christmas Eve, the question of: “What am I getting for Christmas?” fills the minds of kids around the country. Well, the minds of my kids, at any rate.

Every store catalogue is pored over, with wish-list items circled. Every toy advertised on television is assessed carefully and every visit to the shops is treated as a practice run for the annual debrief with Santa. It’s all very overwhelming and, for parents, potentially very expensive!

The thing is though, that if my three children were given even half of what they aspire to, we’d need to rent storage space. I’m sure that my family isn’t alone in that predicament. The question is though: how do we manage our kids’ expectations, without hurting their feelings?

“Recently I received an email from a reader saying that she had asked her son to write a list of the things that he wanted for Christmas. She was then in despair because the list was exhaustive,” says psychologist and author Dr Michael Carr-Gregg. “Parents often complain to me that this current generation -  Gen Z – is the most materialistic on the planet. And of course that’s not surprising because they are subjected to a barrage of advertising almost everywhere they turn. Parents are also telling me that they’re really struggling to say no.”

But while the word “no” might be a bit confronting for some parents, there’s a lot to be gained by putting kids in the drivers seat when it comes to exercising restraint. “Parents need to be straight with their kids,” says Michael. “The lead up to Christmas is a great opportunity to teach them about responsibility and choice.”

“If they are older kids and know where their presents are coming from, then you can take the opportunity to teach them about the fiscal side of things. That is, you have a budget of ‘X’ amount, and your son or daughter needs to be able to fit their wants within that budget. They can go to the shops or jump online and research their choices, then give them that ability to prioritise what is really important to them.”

Similarly for younger kids, Michael encourages parents to explain that Santa will give only so much to each person and again, give them the ability to prioritise. In other words, it’s not about saying: “No, you can’t have that” but rather asking: “What would you prefer?”     

Then of course there are the “other” things that kids wish for – longer hair, the ability to fly, for their beloved pet to be alive again. “Very simply, be definite to your kids that that sort of thing is not Santa’s department – or it wasn’t last time I checked,” says Michael. “You can be factual without being negative. Children can happily understand that life deals us a deck of cards, and that’s what we have to play with.” In other words, Santa gives presents – he doesn’t change the course of your life. “If there was just one message that I could give to all kids, it would be that if you can’t change something, then change the way you think about it,” says Michael. “Always find the positives in any situation.”

So that’s the kids sorted. Now onto MY wishlist …!