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Dealing with The Stress of Kids and Expensive Gift Expectations

Christmas is a time of year that many look forward to – decorations, parties, time with family and friends, and for kids – gifts! While Christmas is meant to be a time of giving, it’s undeniable that for kids, a big part of Christmas is looking forward to what’s waiting under the Christmas tree.

As parents though, those Christmas wish lists and desires for the latest and greatest, can result in additional stress at an already stressful and busy time of year. No parent wants to disappoint their child, but the reality is that most are operating on a limited budget, and sometimes that budget doesn’t match the price tag attached to kids’ wish lists. Eventually, the stress around gift giving and expectations can manifest itself to a point where Christmas becomes more about anxiety than holiday cheer.

Below are a few tips to help manage those expensive gift expectations and reduce stress so that the holidays can be the enjoyable time of year that they were meant to be.

Set Expectations

A big part of avoiding disappointment Christmas morning is managing expectations ahead of time. There’s typically a lengthy lead up to Christmas, with talk of gifts and Christmas wish lists often starting months in advance. As you start to overhear talk of what your kids want for Christmas, make comments that provide feedback on what are acceptable gifts, and what aren’t. If something is realistic, then make a joking comment like “we’ll see if you were good this year!”. If you know something is beyond your means though, then let them know that that’s “too expensive for Santa” or simply too big of a gift to ask for.

Setting these expectations prior to Christmas morning will go a long way in helping ensure reality is in line with wishes and expectations, and avoiding disappointment. Over the years, kids will start to develop a sense of what is realistic and within the means that you have established, and what is excessive (ie: too expensive).

Focus on Giving Over Receiving

While gifts are an undeniable part of Christmas, especially when it comes to kids, Christmas really and truly is the ‘season of giving’. Try placing more of a focus on giving than gifts to remove some of the stress. Help kids develop that sense of satisfaction received when you help or give to others, and shift the focus away from what they want.

There are lots of great events during the holiday season that are intended to make giving fun like toy drives, toy mountains and teddy bear tosses at hockey games. Look out for these types of events to give an additional fun element to giving, or take your kids shopping, set a moderate budget, and let them pick out the toys to give away. This allows them to enjoy the excitement of toy shopping while also developing an understanding of the importance of giving.

Volunteering is another great way to shift the focus away from gifts and material things. There are many organizations that are looking for help and assistance at this time of year, and not only does volunteering offer that intrinsic reward and satisfaction, but also provides perspective on how little some others have. It forces us to reflect and be thankful for our health and what we do have, and makes that new bike or Xbox seem a little less important.

Practice Moderation Year Round

Part of setting reasonable gift expectations can be achieved by practicing a level moderation throughout the rest of the year in your shopping and buying habits. If kids get used to excess and free spending, then often their Christmas wish lists will reflect the same.

Through the year, be clear that spending and purchases follow a certain budget, and that money isn’t endless. Try to involve your kids in things like shopping and household purchases so they see first-hand that there are money considerations to be made with every purchase. Without that, sometimes kids only see the spending and don’t understand the trade-offs and compromises that happen before a purchase is made.

Buy More Smaller Gifts to Maximize Excitement

Often with gifts, it’s not as much about the value of the gift, but the novelty of having something to open – the surprise, the suspense. To maximize that excitement and suspense but still stay on budget, try buying more lower priced gifts.

With one big gift, there’s that moment of elation, but that usually only lasts a few seconds – and then there’s nothing else to open. Having more gifts to open results in more of that gift unwrapping excitement for the same or less money.

If kids do want something big and expensive, then they have to understand that they might only receive that one gift. This is actually a great teachable lesson with regard to understanding certain things have to be given up in order to get other things – they can’t have it all.

Use Christmas as a Teachable Money Opportunity

As with other money topics, it’s recommended to face the subject of presents head on and have a candid conversation with kids about them – within the confines of still keeping the spirit of Christmas and Santa alive. Managing gift expectations, and helping kids understand and develop an appreciation for money, budgets and how to share and appreciate what they have, will go a long way in making their gift wishes and expectations more reasonable, and ensure everyone, both children and parents, have a happy Christmas morning.



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