No chimney full of toys? How to handle holiday disappointments
In a recent interview with Dr. Jeffrey I. Dolgan, PhD, Senior Psychologist at Children’s Hospital Colorado, we asked how to manage children’s expectations during the holidays. Here’s what Dr. Dolgan had to say about how to deal with holiday let-downs if Santa, Mom or Dad come up short.
What do kids expect at Christmastime or Hanukkah?
Kids are very precise about what they want. Their Santa list doesn’t include just a video game, it’s a particular video game, or a specific action figure. Children expect these precise things, especially if they wrote it down or visited Santa Claus. This is especially true if the ads on TV instruct kids to “tell Mom and Dad” or “whisper this in Santa’s ear.”
What should parents do when a child doesn’t get what he or she wanted?
Try to enforce the idea that the holidays are not about getting, they’re about giving. Families can plan to volunteer at a shelter or toy drive to open up kids’ eyes to the fact that there are needy people right in our community. Parents can say: “This has been a tough year, and many boys and girls have mommies and daddies who lost their jobs or are having a hard time staying in their houses. We can help Santa by doing some nice things for other people.”
How can we explain that money is tight this year?
One of my favorite suggestions for families struggling financially is for parents to talk about “Santa dollars.” You can explain that Santa only has so many dollars to spread across many families, so he has to do things differently this year, like giving food and clothing instead of toys. Kids don’t always need to get exactly what they want, and parents don’t need to be apologetic about it. Read more about how to talk to kids when money is tight.
Is it good for kids to deal with disappointment?
Yes. Disappointment is one of the building blocks of personality. Dealing with disappointment means kids are learning to manage expectations and identify feelings. Children who grow up without any disappointment can become entitled and narcissistic, and that’s very hard to overcome.
What life lessons can kids learn during the holidays?
The holidays are an opportunity to work towards a belief system and reconnect as a family outside of school. Spending time together is very, very important. If parents reflect on their own favorite childhood memories, you can replicate that for your own kids today. And perhaps most importantly, the holidays are a time of imagination for kids – learning to believe and have faith in things you can’t necessarily see (whether that is God, Santa, or a red-nosed reindeer that can fly).
Be sure to go here to get tips on how to make the holidays less stressful.