The holiday season seems to start earlier every year. By the time Thanksgiving arrives, many kids will have worked themselves into a frenzy that often is followed by disappointment and tears.
So what can you do to help your children manage holiday expectations?
According to experts with the Amita Health Pediatrics Institute, the first step is to manage your own. Often children are reacting to the signals they are picking up from parents who are increasingly stressed as they try to juggle planning parties, buying gifts, decorating the house, sending cards and all the rest.
If you want your kids to slow down and appreciate the season, try doing it yourself.
Wishlists. For most kids, gifts are a huge focus on the holidays. When it comes to gifts, be honest. With older children, you can have a frank discussion about how your family chooses to spend money. Talk about the relative value of purchases. Even with younger children, you can explain that having a few meaningful gifts can be better than having piles of things that will break or get lost.
Amita Health experts also suggest that you give your children a limit — either a general dollar amount or a number of gifts — and ask them to suggest gifts for themselves within that limit. Then ask them to rank the gifts according to which they want most. Have them revisit their list and their rankings several times — that can encourage them to take a more thoughtful look at their choices.
Focus on traditions. These can include religious holiday traditions, of course. But they also can include your personal family traditions. Are there special foods you eat during the holidays? Do you go to a holiday movie or live show? Are there people you see mainly or more often over the holidays?
Ask your children what the holidays mean to them. You are likely to hear about presents, of course, but encourage them to think about what really brings them joy during the season.
Do they like getting together with people they love? Do they like doing things as a family? Do they like decorating the tree or lighting the candles on the menorah? And what do they like about those things?
Include kids in your holiday prep. Let them help bake cookies or dip pretzels in chocolate. Help them make decorations for the house or yard. Accompany them as they deliver homemade gifts or goodies to the neighbors.
Change their focus to giving rather than receiving. Let them decide what to give their grandparents, siblings, and friends, whether they make the gift or pick it out in the store.
Then explain that the holidays are a wonderful time to help people who are less fortunate than they. You can volunteer in a soup kitchen or go caroling in the neighborhood. They can pick out a toy for a child who might not otherwise get one. Even dropping a coin in a Salvation Army bucket is a way of giving to others.
And when the holidays end, be available to talk to them. Even children who have a wonderful holiday experience can feel let down when it is over. Talk to them about what they are feeling and help them to find new things to look forward to.