This last month, I participated in two separate interviews about holiday gift buying. The first interview was with OppLoans, and the second interview was with CBS News. In both interviews, the same question came up. It's a question that I was in no way prepared to answer, and honestly; it surprised me. It wasn't about how to stick to a holiday shopping list or where to find the best deals; it was about dealing with kids and their expectations of Christmas gifts.
As many of you know, my son is only 4, and up until recently, he could care less about what he got. In fact, you could have given him a cardboard box to unwrap, and he would have been happy. Now that he is getting older, his expectations of Christmas and what it stands for is a little different.
Starting this year, we are doing something we have never done before – we are setting a limit on how much we give him. Not only did we set a dollar amount for how much we are willing to spend, but we even talked about how many presents to buy him. We realized that if we continued down the path of just getting him everything he wanted, the following year he would want something even more spectacular, and he would expect us to buy it for him.
I don't know about you, but this scared the hell out of me. When would the cycle end?
Parenting coach Meghan Leahy explains something that I think is relevant here. She says, “The problem is that parents often feel guilty for failing to meet those expectations, so they go overboard – and miss an opportunity to teach their children how to handle disappointment, a skill that they will need as they get older.”
I think this logic can also be applied to family and friends during the holiday season. How many times have you bought an expensive gift out of guilt? I have, more times than I care to count. With my son, in particular, I want him to understand how the real world works, even if it means being the cause of disappointment.
So. If your child has a demanding Christmas list, don't feel like you have to buy them everything. It's OK to say no and to start them on a path of gratitude early.
BE HONEST AND START THE CONVERSATION EARLY
Even though my son is young, I have always talked to him about the limits of money. He knows that money doesn't fall from trees or appear out of thin air. To simplify Christmas gifts, you must have an open, honest conversation with your children. I recommend having a family meeting where everyone is present. Take this time to explain to your child why you are scaling back on gift-giving.
Setting realistic expectations when your kids are younger is a lot easier than changing them later on. They've already learned what to expect at Christmas, so talking with them about it before hand will help. Make sure to tell them about your financial goals and why there will be less this Christmas.
When I asked my son what he wanted for Christmas this year, he replied, “Well, this year for Christmas I was thinking about getting a blue snow machine with a green hulk that is as big as daddy.” My first thought was, “OK, kid. Yep, that's not possible.”
Now, if you know my son, then you know he has quite the personality, and he has a big imagination. We let our son put whatever he wanted on his Christmas list this year, but instead of driving ourselves crazy or going broke (or in debt) trying to buy everything, we are only getting him two things that are within our budget.Not getting my son everything he wants for Xmas is OK - even if I am the cause of disappointment.Click To Tweet
When we sat our son down to tell him the game plan this year for Christmas, we kept things positive. We are trying to pay off debt (my student loans) this year, and that's exactly what we told him. At first, he cried and said to us “you don't like me anymore,” and then a fifteen-minute crying fit unfolded. Now, there are some parents out there who would say, “So what. Let him have his fit. He will get over it.” For me, that's so much easier said than done. I don't know if I am totally over sensitive, but my mommy feelings were hurt.
No parent wants to hear their child cry or see their face filled with disappointment during the happiest time of year, but we let it happen, and you know what, he got over it. After his meltdown, he started asking us questions. It gave us a chance to explain our situation, and the funny thing is, he was OK with it. It gave us an opportunity to explain the real meaning of Christmas, and to us, that means spending time with people we love and being thankful for what we do have.
PRACTICE MINIMALISM THROUGHOUT THE YEAR
Practicing some level of minimalism throughout the non-holiday season will go a long way towards lowering your child's Christmas expectations. Here is where I am completely honest and admit that I was not always the best at following this advice. Before the Christmas gift debacle this year, I would get my son a Hot Wheels toy every time I went to Walmart. At the time, I thought to myself, “Well it's only 98 cents, so what's the harm?” I did this for the first two years of his life. I loved seeing the excitement on his face when I took it out of the grocery bag and watching him jump up and down with happiness.
When my son turned three, I witnessed for the first time the consequences of my actions. I came home without a Hot Wheels toy, and all hell broke loose. He started crying and he asked, “Mom, where is my toy?” How could I of not known that this would happen or be blind to the fact that I was allowing my son to have these expectations of receiving a toy every time I came back from Walmart?
The truth is, buying your child everything they want all year-long will only create a situation where they come to expect something bigger and better every time. So for the last year, my husband and I have practiced some level of minimalism in our house. We do our best to provide for our son's needs, and there are times where we still buy him fun things, but we are also OK with letting him know what it feels like to not get everything he wants right away.
START WITH RESTRAINED GIFT GIVING EARLY
If you start early, you will have the best opportunity to set the bar for holiday spending exactly where you want it. It is so much easier to establish the tradition of restrained gift giving early than trying to change it later on. My family's income has not allowed us to be too crazy for Christmas, and it didn't enable us to get our son everything he ever wanted.
Due to this, my son has always been pretty happy with the number of presents he received, and up until now, he has been quite satisfied with relatively simple gifts.
Last Christmas, when he was finished opening presents, he asked. “Mommy, that's it? Where are the rest of my presents?” It gave me a chance to explain that there were no more gifts. He was confused at first, and for a week after Christmas, he asked if there would be more presents. Allowing my son to experience this early on, enabled us to work toward an even more simplistic Christmas this year.
Sometimes I feel like the mean mom, the mom that is completely depriving my son of joy during Christmas by not giving into his many wants or his ginormous Christmas list. But going into debt, or going on a spending frenzy to get him everything he wants, is just something I can't do. In life, we don't get everything we want. We don't always get to have what everyone else does. It's important that my son knows that.
I know there are some other ways to lower children's expectations, and this list doesn't cover them all. If you have a helpful tip of what to do or NOT do, share them in the comments below.