Dreaded Christmas list can be tamed

Published 2:53 am Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Avoiding holiday stress may be as simple as changing a few wishlists.

Children have expectations for their Christmas gifts, so for advice to help parents handle those expectations, Ellen Abell, an Alabama Extension specialist and associate professor at Auburn University provided some tips.

Abell suggested that healthy communication is key to eliminating or easing a child’s disappointment over their gifts.

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Parents need to clarify their own values about gift giving and communicate those values to their children. “Communicating those values is an act of self-awareness that can serve as a check on (parent’s) thoughts, words and actions when interactions with (their) children become complicated,” said Abell in her article on parenting.

By communicating and implementing those values daily, children will better understand the importance of the values and of the holiday seasons.

“Ahead of time, parents should talk to children about what the holiday means to their family and how they want to celebrate,” said Abell. Focusing on giving, experiences, gratitude and relationships will take the emphasis off of gift giving.

Whether we like it or not, we live in a materialistic world and our children have advertisements constantly being shoved into their faces. For parents, it is important to recognize the outside influences on children and to do their best to “push back against societal commercial interests,” said Abell.

Gifts and material items are not bad, it is just important to have the right balance of receiving and giving.

Some parents fall into the trap of indulgent parenting behaviors. In this trap, parents give their children almost everything the children want at any point in time. This causes the child to continually expect to get what he or she wants.

Sometimes indulgent parenting can lead to parents’ dreading the Christmas list because they want to give their child everything on it, but cannot because some items are too expensive or do not fit with their values.

Another suggestion that Abell gave is for parents to talk with their children about why they want a certain present. Children may respond by saying they want it because their friends have it. The key is to ask ‘what would it mean to them to have it.’ “If parents are able to find out why it is attractive to the children, they may be able to find an alternative present that could fit those same attractions,” said Abell.

When a child does not get what he or she wants, disappointment is hard to avoid; however, Abell said it is helpful to know how to manage the feelings. She suggests that parents take the perspective of the child and communicate to them that they have been disappointed before too and that they understand. Parents should listen to their children and ask them what they can do now. Do not dismiss their feelings, but slowly help them to move forward by focusing on a different gift.

Parents need to know that they cannot always give their children what they want, and that is OK. “They have to be able to tell themselves that,” said Abell. Sometimes larger life lessons can be learned when a child does not get what they want.

This year, get started early on the holidays and communicate the values of gift giving!