5 Ways to Manage Your Child’s Gift Expectations

Parents should teach kids about gratitude and giving—before opening the gifts.

Posted Dec 22, 2016

Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain, free image
Source: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain, free image

Have you ever watched your child open holiday presents and experience instant horror as you witness how ungrateful they sound? “Where are my other presents?…Is this all there is?...I didn’t ask for this!...I told you I wanted an Xbox.” None of us aspire to raising children who seem ungrateful—we all have high hopes for our children being gracious, loving, and thankful for what they have and get. So how do we cultivate this attitude and prevent our kids from sounding like Veruca Salt in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?

Here are five tips to consider before the kids start ripping the wrapping paper and unraveling the ribbons.

1.  Be aware of what you are modeling – Remember our kids absorb everything from us. They hear what we say and watch what we do. Are you talking about gifts and “receiving” or are you talking about “giving” and family?  Think about what the holidays mean to you and what you want them to mean to your children, whether it is about family tradition, family being together, your religious faith, and/or giving and giving back.  Be purposeful and aware about what you model for your child.

2.  Understand what your child is being exposed to – Once Thanksgiving is over (even before!) the marketing begins on all media – television, internet, Instagram, Facebook and everywhere in between is all about buy stuff for the holidays. There are very few message of giving, and when there are, they are often about giving an expensive item like a luxury car!  Our kids are being bombarded with messages about getting stuff, lots of stuff, and expensive stuff. This seems like a setup for disappointment to me.

3.  Front-load – Given the reality that your child is being preyed upon by marketing campaigns and that they are listening and watching everything you do, be purposeful about what you talk about when it comes to the holidays and especially gifts.  Remind them that the holidays are a time for reflecting on what we have; that it is fun to receive gifts but giving fills you up and is what the holidays are really about; focus on your family traditions and beliefs. In short, make presents secondary, or at least not the primary part of the holidays.

4.  Beware of social media Older kids, teens, and even adults will get to see what everyone is getting for the holidays – maybe even before we open our own presents thanks to social media! We have a whole new challenge with social media and the pressure it puts on our kids to fit in, be cool, and keep up with the Joneses. It is important to talk about this pressure with our kids and get ahead of it by predicting the impact of seeing other's presents, trying not to feel jealous, and being grateful for what we have or have received. This is hard for adults to do so we need to have understanding and compassion for our older children and teens.

5.  Don’t shame – calm and explain – Trust me, I have been there. Hearing your children say some of the things mentioned at the beginning of this blog post can quickly increase a parent’s heart rate, cause intense negative emotion, and often results in a parent reaction. Prepare yourself in advance for how you will handle the situation if your child seems ungrateful or has a negative reaction. It is critical for us to stay calm and not shame our child. We don’t really learn anything positive from being shamed other than feel badly about ourselves. Try to remove your child from the situation, help them get calm and less emotional, and look for an opportunity to teach them about what happened. Calmly explain to them that you can understand how they feel, and you want to help them understand how their behavior looked and felt to you. Remind them about what the holidays are about and try to help create a “do-over” so they can practice positive behavior and you both don’t dwell on the negative. Of course, this process with look and sound differently depending on the age of your child.

Try to remember that our kids are getting lots of messaging about the materialistic stuff that brings companies money. As parents, we need to front-load and counteract these messages and prepare our kids, continually, about what to expect and think about the holidays and how to handle the inevitable tough things like their friends getting more or better stuff.

Focus on your values and remember that the holidays, like all other situations throughout the year, are opportunities for teaching our children about what is really important in life – family, love, giving, and being grateful for what we have.

Happy Holidays!