Managing Children’s Expectations: A Key To Happy Holidays
Ten-year-old Sara keeps her holiday wish list in a notebook, adding new items as she watches Saturday morning cartoons. The list is six pages long by October, including several items costing $100 or more.
Devon, who just turned 5, scans the Sunday paper, boldly marking the ads for toys he’s expecting from Santa and leaving them where they are sure to get noticed by family members. His mom and dad brace themselves for a month or more of tearful pleading and high-volume demands.
“I want it!” “Everyone else has one!” “Buy it for me.” “Why can’t I have it?” No wonder parents of children like Sara and Devon dread the holidays — not to mention birthdays and other special occasions that provoke similar outbursts.
Gimme, Gimme, Gimme!
Every child making a holiday list doesn’t have deep-seated psychological problems. But many parents and child development professionals are concerned that even very young children are adversely influenced by a steady diet of commercials and buying appeals that can raise their holiday expectations to an unhealthy level.
“We live in a culture that encourages children to get all they can,” said Lynne Namka, Ed.D., a psychologist in private practice in Tucson, Ariz. “It happens year-round, but is especially noticeable during the holidays. Children are constantly bombarded with the message that they can have everything they want.”
Some children are encouraged to demand gifts their families can’t afford, while others want items of which their parents do not approve, Namka says.
“In many cases, children’s expectations are so extensive or so unrealistic their parents can’t avoid disappointing them, no matter how much they spend or how many toys they buy,” she added.
The Santa Problem
Shirley Ogletree, Ph.D., professor of developmental psychology at Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos concurs, pointing out that some holiday traditions may even make the situation worse.