There are so many expectations, and excitement is at a fever pitch leading up to the holidays, especially for kids, so it shouldn’t be shocking that the “gimme” monster rears his head this time of year. That, combined with stress from the in-laws or a lot more sugar than usual, makes the whole family a little raw this week. Dr. Jeffrey I. Dolgan, Senior Psychologist at The Children’s Hospital, Denver, has some strategies for managing your kid’s expectations and disappointment, as well as the raging consumerism when they see a toy catalog.

Dolgan explains that the holidays mean different things at different ages to children. “Three or 4-year-olds don’t get the Christian meaning of Christmas, but they do get Santa Claus. They understand that they’re going to get some presents. It’s a time of imagination.” You might be teaching the giving instead of getting, but your child may just be a bit to young to grasp that at the same time as Santa’s magic toy express.

Who IS Santa Claus?

To your kiddos, Dolgan explains that Santa Claus is the giver of all good things. This is especially true if children have been to the mall and met Santa Claus and told him what they want. So, consumerism and obsession with all the good things they could receive is normal. As our kids get older they can understand more external influences (your budget!) but little kids just don’t think that way. So, managing what you might see as the “gimme” phase could start with talking about some limits Santa might have, such as bringing one simple toy.

We read an excellent article before the holidays about a mom who gets her kids something they NEED, something they WANT, something to WEAR and something to READ. It’s an excellent tradition to try next year.

Is the Santa Claus Myth Part of the Problem?

Dolgan says that it’s good for kids to have a symbol and to believe. “This is the beginning of a belief system, which we all need so we have something to hang on to later on. For little kids, it’s something to look forward to. If they disbelieve, they can become negative and they lose a kind of charm.” He adds that it’s appropriate for kids to keep believing in something about Santa forever. (Wheww!)

Understand Expectations

Dolgan explains, “Kids are precise about what they want. It’s not a video game, it’s this particular video game. It’s not an action figure, it’s this action figure.” They expect these precise things, especially if they wrote it down or visited Santa Claus. Children come to expect that all kids should have these toys, especially if the ads instruct them to, “Tell Mom and Dad” or “Make sure to mention this to Santa Claus.”

If your child didn’t get what he or she wanted, or wanted everything in the catalog, Dolgan suggest setting up a volunteering expedition to open up kids’ eyes to the fact that there are needy people. “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 things that he would do because he’s having a very hard time providing all the food and clothes.”

Is Disappointment OK?

Dolgan says yes. “These are the building blocks of personality. Dealing with disappointment means both managing expectations and identifying feelings. Unless you master disappointment or an upsetting event early, it will be much more difficult to deal with it later on. Children who grow up without any disappointment become entitled and narcissistic. And that’s very hard to treat. Those who are truly entitled think everything comes their way and nothing goes the other. They think they’re the center of the universe. When someone thinks that way, who can they share with?”

What Else Do Kids Learn?

According to Dolgan, the holidays are an opportunity to know some myths, work towards a belief system and reconnect outside of school. “Doing something together is very, very important. If parents reflect on the best part of the holidays, they can replicate that. And they remember the worst part of the holidays and learn not to bring that back either.”

We’d love to hear your strategies for managing consumerism, ideas for next year, or recommendations on articles about the topic! Leave us a comment!

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