Three steps to handling children’s expectations at Christmas

December 5, 2017 Published by

We all want to see our children’s face’s light up on Christmas morning when they see the gifts under the tree. So much so that many desperate parents will stop at nothing to get this Christmas’s ‘must have’ gift – including paying four times the original price to snap up sold-out toys.

We’ve touched on dealing with disappointment at Christmas previously, in an article to help parents manage common Christmas behaviour and Dr Amanda Gummer recently featured on BBC Radio Tees to discuss this topic (listen below).

But it’s such a big pressure point for parents that we’re back with three steps to combat disappointment at Christmas; specifically, what to do if you can’t give your child the ‘big Santa present’.



Step 1: Manage your own expectations


It’s so easy to get caught up in the hype of Christmas shopping. But with one in three of us relying on credit cards to cover the cost of Christmas, like the ghost of Christmas past, it will come back to haunt us come the New Year.

But if pricey toys, clothes or gadgets are simply not in your budget, be honest with yourself. Before you can manage your child’s expectations, you need be able to manage your own. A handy little tip for doing this is the ‘four gift rule’, which makes it easier to limit your spending, and also means your child doesn’t miss out. Within this is ‘something they want’, which is likely to be the ‘big Santa present’ – but you can still restrict the cost of this with Step 2.


Step 2: Manage your child’s expectations


If your child is asking for the latest tablet, and it’s simply not in your budget, they need to know this from the start. With older children, you can sit down and discuss the expense, what you can afford, etc. and offer alternatives that are within reason for your family.

For younger children, who won’t necessarily understand the price of things, or indeed the value of money, there still needs to be a conversation about their wishes and desires. A good time to do this is when writing letters to Father Christmas. If there are too many gifts on the list, or some aren’t within reach, you can explain that they may not get everything they want, but they are very lucky to get any presents at Christmas.

You could also take part in activities that show children how little some people have, and that Christmas for them is not about receiving lots of gifts. Many charity groups organise Christmas shoeboxes for those in need; getting your child involved in the filing of a box and discussing how these small things (such as toothbrushes and gloves) will mean so much to the recipients, will demonstrate the true value of a Christmas gift.


Step 3: Spend time, not money


Despite what the media and advertising might have you believe, your child values your full time and attention much higher than ‘that’ Christmas present. It makes them feel important and loved knowing that you are fully focused on them, which is so much more valuable than anything that could come gift-wrapped.

Plan a frosty winter walk, play an old board game, have a festive movie night in your onesies, or get creative with some Christmas crafts. Make a big deal out of spending time simply enjoying each other’s company, and create some wonderful memories together.


Of course, this is easier said than done; we’d all give our children the world if it would fit under the Christmas tree. So we’ll leave you with this little quote to ponder:

“And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.” – Dr Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

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This post was written by Claire Gillies

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